Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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The International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) is the only cooperative organisation representing independent ombudsmen around the world.

It will hold its 11th World Conference in Bangkok this November.

Secretary General Gunther Krauter, who is also the Austrian ombudsman, talked to The Nation’s political desk about the event and the role of ombudsman institutions.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE IOI IN A FEW WORDS?

The IOI is the only global non-political organisation of parliamentary Ombuds-institutions. It was established in 1978 in Canada and since 2009 has its headquarters in Vienna. I have the honour of being the secretary general. Today, we have 175 members in more than 90 countries, six regions. The main duties of the IOI are to provide training for ombudsman staff, do research and offer regional subsidies.

WHAT ARE THE CORE RESPONSIBILITIES OF OMBUDSMAN INSTITUTIONS?

The core responsibilities are handling individual complaints of citizens against public administration, initiating ex-officio investigations, protecting and promoting human rights. Some Ombuds-institutions even have an anti-corruption mandate. If ombudsmen find cases of mal-administration, they have the power to make recommendations to authorities. They, therefore, can be seen as a permanent mirror for governments, administration officials and members of parliaments.

IN NOVEMBER THE 11TH IOI WORLD CONFERENCE WILL TAKE PLACE IN BANGKOK. WHAT IS THE PROCE?DURE TO CHOOSE A VENUE FOR SUCH A BIG EVENT?

Every four years, the IOI invites its members to attend a world-conference. In 2013, we conducted a tender to find a suitable and capable candidate. Applicant institutions from Asia, Africa and Europe presented their offers to the IOI board meeting in Vienna, The board mem?bers then voted in a secret ballot and elected the Ombudsman of Thailand to host the World Conference 2016. This will be the first time for the conference to be held in Asia.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN OBJECTIVES OF THE WORLD CONFERENCE?

I think there are two overriding goals. First, organisational course settings, such as the glob?al IOI electoral reform that foresees a more democratic voting procedure for officials of the IOI, introducing universal suffrage. Second, we concentrate on the “Evolution of Ombudsmanship” and discuss themes like a stronger human rights approach in the daily work of ombudsmen or the support of ombudsman-institutions under threat.

YOU MENTIONED OMBUDSMEN UNDER THREAT. WHAT KIND OF THREAT DO YOU MEAN, IN PARTICULAR?

Unfortunately, in some regions Ombudsman institutions are under pressure such as through financial cuts, or the loss of competence due to amendments of laws or privatisation, leaving citizens without protection. In special cases, authorities or even parliaments do not table the reports for discussion or institutions can be undermined in many ways. Therefore, the IOI is preparing the endorsement of a “Bangkok Declaration” to strengthen the concept of the independent ombudsman to protect and promote good governance and human rights.

WHAT IS THE “BANGKOK DECLARATION” EXPECTED TO CONTAIN?

First of all, the declaration will be a clear statement for democracy and the rule of law in all countries. It will also entail a perspective for a stronger human rights focus in the future, espe?cially by a close cooperation with citizens and civil society. Finally, the strengthening of our member institutions through a clear and straightforward procedure, if they are under threat.

WHAT DO YOU AS SECRETARY GENERAL PERSONALLY EXPECT FROM THE WORLD CONFERENCE?

I am convinced that the Ombudsman of Thailand will be a very professional and enthusiastic host. We can expect exciting discussions and far-reaching decisions. Hopefully, with the presence of so many independent ombudsmen, we will also contribute to democratic development in Thailand.

THE AUSTRIAN OMBUDSMAN OR THE “VOLKSANWALTSCHAFT” IS A BIG DEAL IN AUSTRIA. WHY IS IT SO POWERFUL AS AN INDEPENDENT INSTITU?TION?

The Austrian Ombudsman Board has existed for nearly 40 years and one of its most powerful tools is that ombudsmen are actually addressing the ministers directly and they take the cases very seriously.

Even though ministers are not legally accountable to the ombudsman and ombudsmen cannot impeach the ministers, we as ombudsmen are the representatives of the parliament. And the parliament could impeach the ministers. Thus, ministers take the ombudsman very seriously. That is the most powerful tool.

WHAT SHOULD THAI OMBUDSMEN LEARN FROM THE VOLKSANWALTSCHAFT?

In Austria, we ombudsmen have a television show, which is very popular. It addresses the problems people have with mal-administration and bring the parties in conflict – the citizens who are not satisfied with the administration’s work and the representatives from the administration side – to talk and the ombudsmen act as mediators to help resolve the issue.

I think Thailand should have a similar TV programme because it gives the ombudsman a lot of preventive power and has proven very effective in Austria.

HANOI – From July 2017, Vietnam would no longer receive preferential loans in the form of official development assistance (ODA), a finance department official said at a conference yesterday.

Instead, the country could be provided only preferential loans and gradually market-based financing, Truong Hùng Long, head of the Ministry of Finance’s Department of Debt Management and External Finance said at the conference on the ODA relending polices.

Vietnam was working with the World Bank and other organisations on the roadmap of repayment of official development assistance (ODA) to prevent “shocks” to the State budget when interest rates on existing ODA increased or repayment period was shortened, heard a conference yesterday.

Long said that concessional terms of preferential loans provided to Vietnam gradually became stricter as the country turned into a middle-income country since 2010.

Long said that interest rates on existing ODA would be increased to between 2 per cent and 3.5 per cent, from below 1 per cent per year or the repayment period should be shortened by half as the country needs to implement rapid debt repayment obligation after providing of the ODA.

Before 2010, average repayment period was around 30 years to 40 years with borrowing costs between 0.7 and 0.8 per cent per year, including a grace period. In comparison, the average repayment period was between 10 years and 20 years and borrowing cost was from 2 per cent during the 2011 to 2015 period.

The finance ministry said it was working with the World Bank, a major donor to Vietnam, and other organisations about ODA repayments to prevent negative impacts to the State budget. “The negotiations are underway,” Long said.

Repayment pressure

As negotiations for ODA repayment were underway, Long said that he could not give an exact amount of the public debts Viêt Nam had to pay by 2020.

He said that debt repayment pressure would be the heaviest in 2022 to 2025 period, so the pressure would not be huge in the next four years.

Long said that payables this year would account for around 14.7 per cent of the total budget collection, or VND150 trillion (US$6.7 billion).

Statistics from the finance ministry showed that Vietnam received US$45 billion worth of ODA between 2005 and 2020.

The finance ministry said that ODA contributed to the country’s socio-economic development and on improving the infrastructure system. However, while the credit risks were still put on the shoulder of the State budget, the management and use of ODA sometimes were inefficient.

Long said that from now to July 2017, Vietnam must take advantage of the ODA to invest in development of the infrastructure system.

In order to enhance the efficiency of the ODA management and use, Long said that the relending mechanism might be applied at localities with a better financial situation to share the public debt pressure with the State budget.

A large slice of paradise

Posted by pakin On March - 24 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

A look at seven of Thailand’s best-kept island secrets

With hundreds of islands, islets and reefs to its name, Thailand is well equipped to satisfy the desires of castaways, sensation seekers and those who simply want to be pampered. Popular destinations like KohSamui, Koh Chang, Koh Tao, Koh Kood, Koh Samet and Koh Lanta offer a range of accommodation to suit most pockets but for a real getaway this summer, why not leave the tourists behind and discover some of Thailand’s best-kept island secrets?

KOH PHRA THONG, PHANG NGA

Just off Khura Buri, this island in the Andaman Sea is small – just four villages – but special, complete with undeveloped beaches and an endless brownish landscape that looks strikingly similar to the savannahs of Africa, except it’s home to bare-headed Lesser Adjutant birds rather than lions and elephants. Koh Phra Thong’s isolated beach is a draw for foreigners but an increasing number of sun-shy young Thais are being lured by the spectacular scenery.

Getting there: Phuket International Airport is your gateway to Phang Nga province. From the airport to Khura Buri district, you can get a taxi or rent a car if you prefer to be behind the wheel. Khura Buri is about a two-hour drive from Phuket on a well-paved and well-sign posted road. Koh Phra Thong is reached either from Saphan Pla Pier, seven kilometres north of Khura Buri Town or from Khura Buri Pier.

Where to stay: Mr Chuoi’s Beach Huts & Bar has thatch-roofed bungalows for Bt500-Bt1,200. The Moken Eco Village is more upmarket with a stylish cottage costing Bt2,900 per night). Visit www.MokenEcoVillage.com.

KOH KHO KHAO, PHANG NGA

This island makes Khao Lak with its long, white sand beach that serves a collection of upscale resorts feel like Phuket. According to the latest census, 725 people live on Koh Kho Khao along with hundreds of water buffaloes. During the high season, from November to February, these beasts of burden gaze at backpackers as they cycle and stroll around the small island. Most of the young visitors are seeking respite from the tourists on Khao Lak and lay down their towels on the peaceful beach on the island’s west coast. Cycling is the best way to explore Koh Kho Khao as its small paths criss-cross fields of wild flowers and water lilies. Amateur archaeologists will enjoy exploring Baan Thung Tuek historical site on the island.

Getting There: Fly to Phuket, the gateway to Andaman coast. From the airport, visitors can rent a taxi to Baan Nam Khem Pier then take a ferry to the island.

Where to Stay: With 23 beachfront rooms, C & N Kho Khao Beach Resort is an ideal place for an island hideaway. The owner, English-speaking Rungsuriya, is very informative and helpful. Visit www.CNKhoKhaoBeachResort.com.

KOH PAYAM, RANONG

Just off the coast of Ranong Province, Koh Payam is blessed by long and isolated beaches with golden sand. Ao Yai, a large bay on its Southwest side, draws the visitors for its four kilometres of beach. It’s an idyllic place to stroll and home to several species of birds including the hornbill. For a more isolated treat, opt for Ao Kwang Peep on the Western side.

Getting there: Nok Air operates flights between Bangkok and Ranong. Payam Island is about two hours on a ferry or 35 minutes on a speedboat from Ranong’s Pak Nam Pier.

Where to stay: King Paradise Resort near Ao Yai has rustic yet stylish beachfront cottages. Visit www.KingParadisePayamResort.net.

KOH LIPE, SATUN

Far and away from the crowds and city life, Lipe is a small island in the Adang-Rawi Archipelago of the Andaman Sea in Satun Province and a former home of the sea gypsies. Popular with dedicated scuba divers and snorkellers, it is famed for its beautiful reefs, crystal-clear water and icing-sugar sand and is now a hippie-chic hideaway.

Getting there: Several domestic airlines fly to the stepping off point of Hat Yai. From there, take a passenger van (a two-hour trip) to Pak Bara Pier. Lipe Island is about three hours on the ferry (Bt800/person). The first boat leaves at 11.30am and the last at 1.30pm.

Where to stay: A two-storey Breezy Bungalow at Castaway Beach Resort on Sunrise Beach. Right on the beach with uninterrupted views, you won’t find anywhere better for the magical sunrise. Low season rates start at Bt1,400.

KOH PHA, PHANG NGA

You could almost pick any island off the Phang Nga Province and treat yourself for a quiet break, but Koh Pha has the edge. This tiny islet barely bigger than tennis court is the kind of desert island you’ll find in a shipwreck comic. The islet rose from the sea following the 2004 tsunami and has nothing other than a few coconut palms. It’s an ideal place for sunbathing in extreme isolation.

Getting there: Hire a boat from Kho Khao Island and remember to make arrangements for a pick-up in the evening. Bring some water and whatever else you might need for the day..

Where to stay: The nearest hotel to Koh Pha is on Kho Khao Island.

KOH KRADAN, TRANG

With Chinese tourists flooding Thailand’s tourist destinations, finding a peaceful beach has become something of a “mission impossible”. Koh Kradan off Trang Province in the Andaman Sea is one of the exceptions, a small piece of paradise with powdery sand and excellent snorkelling on a reef just off the beach. It’s an ideal place for a holiday in a hammock. Wait until low tide and you can walk out to the reef.

Getting there: A few domestic airlines operate to Trang. Koh Kradan is an hour’s journey on a long-tailed boat from Pak Meng Pier. During the high season Phuket Ferry (www.PhuketFerry.com) operates a service between Phuket and Koh Kradan. The trip takes three hours and costs Bt1,650.

Where to stay: Reef Resort Kradan Island (www.ReefResortKradan.com) has cosy beachfront cottages.

Aeon Mall plans bold Asean expansion

Posted by pakin On March - 24 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

AEON MALL, the leading Japanese retail group, aims to create a strong footprint in Asia and become the No-1 retailer in Asean by investing in about 10 new shopping malls in the region, including one in Thailand, by the end of the decade.

“Under our 2020 strategy, we are planning to open five new shopping malls in Jakarta, after entering the 250-million-strong market with our first Aeon Mall in Indonesia last year. Meanwhile, the company is also adding three more branches in Ho Chi Minh City, and another in Hanoi,” Mitsugu Tamai, director and executive general manager for Aeon Mall’s Asean division, said yesterday.

The company is also studying the feasibility of business development in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, and hopes to have its first Aeon Mall property in Thailand by 2020, he said.

Asked about the possible location and investment format for a Thai venture, Tamai suggested that an appropriate site would possibly be in the outskirts of Bangkok due to urbanisation and the growth of communities in such areas, while the project would be undertaken either though its own investment or via a joint venture.

Besides Aeon Mall BSD City in Indonesia, Aeon Mall currently operates at 24 locations in Malaysia and has one other shopping mall in Asean – in Phnom Penh – while another will soon be opened in the Cambodian capital.

In the new Phnom Penh project, Bangkok-based Major Cineplex Group is continuing its collaboration with the Japanese retailer to open another Major Cineplex operation at its second Aeon Mall in the country.

Vicha Poolvaraluk, chairman of Major Cineplex Group, said his company was investing about Bt200 million on a new theatre consisting of 10 screens, including an IMAX laser theatre, and 20 bowling lanes.

Other Thai companies – S&P, Fuji Restaurant, Jaspal and Black Canyon Coffee – are also interested in opening branches at the new mall.

Aeon Mall’s new project, which occupies an area of 100,000 square metres in Phnom Penh’s Pong Peay district, is scheduled to open in the first half of 2018.

Apart from Asean, the leading Japanese retailer is also focusing on China as a key destination for its overseas business expansion.

It currently has 11 shopping malls in the huge Chinese market.

“By 2020, we hope to have more than 10 per cent of our revenue contributed by overseas business, up from 2 to 3 per cent now.

Due to aggressive outlet expansion, the company aims to see a 120-per-cent year-on-year increase in terms of revenue from overseas markets,” Tamai said.

Aeon’s overall revenue came in at about ฅ8 trillion (Bt2.49 trillion) last year.

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