Vol. IV No. 49 - Saturday December 3 - December 9, 2005
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SPECAIL NEWS

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great

Thailand’s Compassionate Monarch

By Peter Cummins
Photos: Courtesy of the Bureau of the Royal Household

Prologue

As His Majesty reaches his 78th birthday this day, the Thai Nation celebrates again, in a thousand different ways, with every person from the youngest to the oldest renewing the pledge of loyalty and devotion to the beloved King who, during this year, celebrated his 55th year of marriage to Queen Sirikit.

Next year will inaugurate a year-long celebration of the 60th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the Thai Throne, on 9 June 1946, as the Ninth King of the Rama Dynasty, the world’s longest-reigning – and, serving – Monarch.

A vast number of festivities are being planned and the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board is organizing a “60 years of Reign for the benefit of the people” exhibition to celebrate this singular event.

One of the main aims is to gather information and present a progress report of the myriad Royal Development Projects Kingdom-wide. Other activities will include the establishment of a learning centre to educate the people using examples and information gleaned from past and ongoing projects.

The Board anticipates an “Exhibition on Tour” and will also organize exhibitions all over the Kingdom so people can learn first-hand of the all-encompassing benefits disbursed by the Royal Projects.

His Majesty the King during a visit to a Royally Initiated Development Project in the area of Nong Yai, Mueang Chumphon District, Chumphon Province. 20 June 1998

Inevitably, there will be some familiar parts in this dedication to His Majesty on the occasion of his 78th birthday, for the King’s development projects have been ongoing for more than 50 years and there is, of course, a historical perspective which has been encapsulated. However, there are still many aspects of the King’s development theories, philosophy, and processes which have not been widely exposed and which, in a short article like this, it is not feasible to try to incorporate. They are the material for a large research publication which the Chiangmai Mail will undertake some time in the future.

Born on Monday, the fifth of December 1927, at the Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej was named “Baby Songkhla” by the hospital staff, for there was not an official name for the future King.

The Chiangmai Mail presents this supplement, prepared by special correspondent Peter Cummins, as a “Happy Birthday” tribute to our beloved King.

A Righteous Rule

In his Coronation Oath, promulgated on the fifth of May 1950, the newly-crowned Rama the Ninth vowed that, “We will reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people” and, in the 55 years which have passed since that auspicious day, the concept of “righteousness” has dominated his reign. In fact, the King has constantly revered the age-old Buddhist concept of ‘Kingship’ as defined in the Sutta Pitaka of the Tripitaka in which a King is defined as Mahasammata - a King of Righteousness. The Buddhist scriptures also define the genesis of the universe and the progression of evils which befall mankind: greed, stealing and lying and the inevitable repercussions of censure and punishment.

Their Majesties the King and Queen inspecting the operation control centre of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand in the Huai Khwang area, during a visit to preside over the Opening Ceremony of the Mass Rapid Transit Chaloem Ratchamongkhon Line (Hua Lamphong Bang Sue Section) of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand, at Hua Lamphong Railway Station, Bangkok. 3 July 2004

Our King has steadfastly reigned by these principles, embodying good kingship in his own life and example and often speaking out against the affliction of the evils so clearly spelled out in the Buddhist philosophy - evils and afflictions which seem to have become progressively worse in the past tumultuous year.

Development For The People

Some three years ago, His Majesty went to the Hua Hin airfield in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province to visit the Royal Rainmaking Research and Development Institute. But he did not go alone; rather, he took a group of students with him, to inspect the royally-initiated rainmaking project. The King patiently explained the mechanisms and complexities of the system to the youngsters from the Klai Kangwol School.

His Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, planting vetiver grass during a visit to Huai Sai Agricultural Research and Development Centre under the Royal Initiative of His Majesty the King, Cha-am District, Phetchaburi Province. 14 July 1998

“Such a project as this helps alleviate drought and water shortages often critical in such dry provinces as Prachuab Khiri Khan and many other rural areas,” the King pointed out to the enthralled students.

His Majesty’s ‘outing’ with these schoolchildren again underscored his concern about the efficacy of his numerous development projects in reaching out to even the least of his subjects. This occasion was a little reminiscent of an event four years earlier. Then, the King was so intent upon his dedication to the people through his “middle way” - the Buddhist philosophy of balance, inter-relatedness and self-reliance - that he escorted a group of journalists to visit the Huay Hong Krai Centre which acts as a model for catchment area conservation for the north.

The fact that it was His Majesty’s only press trip for many years - and has not been repeated since - indicated the importance that he attached, in that case, to the sites where the farmers can observe the ongoing research, and choose whatever is most suitable for their needs and localities.

According to the observations of one member of the media accompanying the King at that time, “While international development literature devotes much space to formulating projects aimed at ‘people participation’ and beneficial end-results for the intended recipients, His Majesty had been working according to these guidelines - before the development community even thought of embracing them.

The King established five other Royal Development Study Centres - or, as they are better known - “Living Museums” - situated in the roughest terrain in their respective regions. These centres are the locale for experiments in reforestation, irrigation, land development and farm technology which are conducted to find practical applications within the constraints of local conditions, geography and topography. His Majesty’s aim is to restore the natural balance, to enable people to become self-supporting.

The first centre organized was that of Khao Hin Son, in the rocky area of Chachoengsao’s Phanom Sarakam District. Here, the centre studies how to turn the barren soil, caused by deforestation, back into fertile land again. Other centres are located at strategic places around the Kingdom.

The Pikul Thong Centre at Narathiwat studies the swampy, acidic land of the southern-most region. The Phu Phan Centre in Sakhon Nakhon studies soil salinity and irrigation in the country’s biggest region, the Northeast, which suffers from endemic drought. The Krung Kraben Bay Centre in Chantaburi examines the rehabilitation of mangrove forests and coastal areas following massive destruction. The Huay Sai Centre in Petchaburi studies the rehabilitation of degraded forests and shows villagers, in their turn, how to protect the forests.

When he was in doubt, the King would fly over a particular area, armed with aerial photographs and maps of the terrain, noting features as they passed underneath. And, being a good photographer himself, he also took His own pictures, later to juxtapose them on area charts to obtain a complete and detailed image of the specifics which helped his planning of various development projects.

His Majesty’s insightful approach to local prevailing conditions has enabled him to improvise new theories for agricultural development, to provide guidelines for educating farmers on self-sufficiency, and to solve problems of goitre by feeding iodine into salt roads at strategic points.

In all these works, His Majesty has promoted a simple approach using environmentally friendly techniques and utilizing moderate amounts of locally available resources. For example, before environmentalism became a major force in the development equation, His Majesty was using vetiver grass to prevent erosion, controlling ground water level to reduce soil acidity, and seeding clouds with simple materials such as dry ice, to produce rain.

A ‘Simple’ approach

The King’s philosophy to development problems has been to “keep it simple” - relying on an intimate knowledge of Nature and her immutable law, such as using fresh water to flush out polluted water or dilute it through utilization of normal tidal fluctuations. The ubiquitous water hyacinth too can be ‘harnessed’ to absorb pollutants.

His Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, presiding over the Opening Ceremony of “Thailand Science-Tech 2004” at Impact Arena, Muang Thong Thani, Pak Kret District, Nonthaburi Province. 19 October 2004

The results of any development, the King asserts, must reach the people directly as a means of overcoming immediate problems, translating into “enough to live, enough to eat”, while looking at a longer-term result of “living well and eating well.”

His Majesty compares this to using adharma (evil) to fight evil, observing that both pollution and the water weed are a menace, but they can be used to counteract each other, thus lessening the damage to the environment.

The King himself practices this ‘simple approach’ and brings a down-to-earth approach to which the people can readily relate. He studies and deliberates exhaustively on the particular project and then reveals his thinking in short, easy-to-grasp titles. The very simplicity belies the profundity of the philosophy, for each title reflects a much deeper insight into a given problem and often, at the same time, hints at the mode of operation to be employed.

The King undertook the establishment of the Royal Development Projects in 1969, primarily as a means of arresting the opium growing and deforestation caused by the Hilltribes’ slash and burn agriculture and to improve their standard of living. The first was established at a Hmong village on Doi Pui in Chiang Mai Province and now has spread to Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son. Over the years, the Projects have been instrumental in the conversion of the poppy fields being turned into groves of temperate fruits and vegetables.

Under the dynamic direction of the King’s close colleague, Prince Bhisadej Rajani, who is the Director of the Projects, operating from his base at the Chiang Mai University, there are currently four research stations and 35 Royal Project Development Centres which incorporate some 300 villages, comprising 14,000 households and approximately 90,000 farmers.

The Royal Development Projects Board, under the Office of the Prime Minister, also serves as the secretariat for the Chai Pattana Foundation which is directly responsible for the work related to the royal development projects. Now, more than three decades later, the results can be seen in the new life which has come to many of the mountain villages. Greenery has returned to once-denuded forest areas and barren hills and the opium cultivation, a cause of extreme national concern, is virtually a past era.

“The key to the success of the Project lies in His Majesty’s guidelines,” explains Prince Bhisadej. “They focus on obtaining knowledge, through research, avoiding bureaucratic entanglements and swift action to respond to the villagers’ needs, while promoting self-reliance,” he adds. “The effectiveness of this approach has been applauded internationally.” For example, in 1998 the Royal Project won both the “Magsaysay Award for International Understanding” and the Thai Expo Award for attaining the quality standard of Thai Goods for Export.

The King’s own views are that development must respect different regions, geography and peoples’ way of life. “We cannot impose our ideas on the people - only suggest. We must meet them, ascertain their needs and then propose what can be done to meet their expectations,” the King pointed out recently.

The King’s ideas are in direct contrast to the bureaucracy’s wish to impose standards from the top down, with the inflexibility inherent therein. “Don’t be glued to the textbook,” he admonishes developers “who,” he said, “must compromise and come to terms with the natural and social environment of the community.”

The King sees no need to spare any sensitivities - if there are any - because he feels that the government approach is costly and authoritarian which is why it has “failed miserably to address the country’s problems.”

Epilogue

Thus, through the illustrious decades of his rule, the King has been the very embodiment of his Oath of Accession that, “We will reign with Righteousness for the Benefit and Happiness of the Siamese People.”

The world’s longest-reigning Monarch, this week celebrating his seventy-eighth birthday, continues to be, as he has been for the half-century of his just reign, “the light of his land, the pride of his people and a shining example to all peoples of a troubled world”.


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