Monthly Archives: January 2015

30 January 2015 – Trade Statistics for December 2014

Pretoria, 30 January 2015 – The South African Revenue Service (SARS) today releases trade statistics for December 2014 that recorded a trade surplus of R6.85 billion. This figure includes trade data with Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS).  

Summary   
The R6.85 billion surplus for December 2014 is due to exports of R87.49 billion and imports of R80.64 billion. Exports increased from November to December by R3.23 billion (3.8%) and imports decreased from November to December by R8.89 billion (9.9%).

The cumulative deficit for 2014 is R95.30 billion compared to R71.36 billion in 2013.

Trade highlights by category

The month-on-month export movements:

R’ million
Section:
Including BLNS:Mineral Products
+ R4 522
+ 24.9%Vegetable Products
+ R1 111
+ 46.9%Wood Pulp & Paper
+ R 347
+ 24.8%Machinery & Electronics
–  R 348
– 4.0%Vehicles & Transport Equipment
– R2 027
– 19.0%

The month-on-month import movements:

R’ million
Section:
Including BLNS:Machinery & Electronics
– R2 982
– 13.1%Mineral Products
– R1 416
– 7.4%Equipment  Components
– R1 157
– 21.4%Chemical Products
– R1 125
– 12.5%Vehicles & Transport Equipment
+ R 991
+ 12.8%

Trade highlights by world zone    The world zone results for December 2014 are given below.  Africa:  Exports: R23 673 million – this is a decrease of R5 273 million from November 2014Imports: R10 054 million – this is a decrease of R1 267 million from November 2014Trade surplus: R13 619 million.This is a 22.7% decrease in comparison to the R17 624 million surplus recorded in November 2014. America:  Exports: R9 139 million – this is an increase of R1 584 million from November 2014Imports: R8 313 million – this is a decrease of R 962 million from November 2014Trade surplus: R 827 millionThis is an improvement to the R1 719 million deficit recorded in November 2014. Asia:  Exports: R28 489 million – this is an increase of R3 878 million from November 2014Imports:  R37 428 million – this is a decrease of R3 515 million from November 2014Trade deficit: R8 939 million This is a 45.3% decrease in comparison to the R16 332 million deficit recorded in November 2014.Europe:  Exports: R19 368 million – this is an increase of R2 216 million from November 2014Imports: R23 630 million – this is a decrease of R3 292 million from November 2014Trade deficit: R4 262 millionThis is a 56.4% decrease in comparison to the R9 770 million deficit recorded in November 2014. Oceania:    Exports:  R1 309 million – this is an increase of R 253 million from November 2014Imports:   R1 179 million – this is an increase of R 235 million from November 2014Trade surplus: R 131 millionThis is a 15.9% increase in comparison to the R 113 million surplus recorded in November 2014.
Excluding BLNSThe trade data excluding BLNS for December 2014 recorded a trade deficit of R0.68 billion.  Summary   The R0.68 billion deficit for December 2014 is as a result of exports of R77.72 billion and imports of R78.40 billion. Exports increased from November to December by R6.85 billion (9.7%) and imports decreased from November to December by R8.34 billion (9.6%). The cumulative deficit for 2014 is R198.92 billion compared to R158.18 billion in 2013.Trade highlights by categoryThe month-on-month export movements:

R’ million
Section:
Excluding BLNS:Mineral Products
+ R4 862
+ 30.3%Precious Metals & Stones
+ R1 192
+ 8.8%Vegetable Products
+ R1 105
+ 61.4%Base Metals
+ R 508
+ 5.2%Vehicle & Transport Equipment
– R1 644
– 18.1%
The month-on-month import movements:R’ million
Section:
Excluding BLNS:Machinery & Electronics
– R2 784
– 12.4%Mineral Products
– R1 403
– 7.4%Equipment Components
– R1 157
– 21.4%Chemical Products
– R 989
– 12.1%Vehicle & Transport Equipment
+ R 997
+ 12.9%Trade highlights by world zone  
The world zone results from November 2014 to December 2014 are given below.  Africa:  Exports: R13 906 million – this is a decrease of R1 659 million from November 2014Imports: R7 819 million – this is a decrease of R 713 million from November 2014Trade surplus: R6 087 millionThis is a 13.5% decrease in comparison to the R7 034 million surplus recorded in November 2014. SA Trade Release Table (including BLNS)SA Trade Release Table (excluding BLNS)
BLNS (Only)
Trade Statistics with BLNS countries
Trade statistics with the BLNS for December 2014 recorded a trade surplus of R7.53 billion.  SummaryThe R7.53 billion surplus for December 2014 is as a result of exports of R9.77 billion and imports of R2.24 billion.Exports decreased from November to December by R3.61 billion (27.0%) and imports decreased from November to December by R0.55 billion (19.9%). The cumulative surplus for 2014 is R103.62 billion compared to R86.82 billion in 2013.Trade Highlights by Category
The month-on-month export movements:
R’ million
Section:
BLNS:Precious Metals & Stones
– R 919
– 97.6%Machinery & Electronics
– R 715
– 36.4%Vehicles & Transport Equipment
– R 383
– 24.7%Mineral Products
– R 340
– 16.1%Base Metal
– R 336
– 35.6%The month-on-month import movements:
R’ million
Section:
BLNS:Machinery & Electronics
– R198
– 59.2%Chemical Products
– R 136
– 16.9%Textiles
– R 133
– 33.5%Prepared Foodstuff
– R 43
– 8.4%Precious Metals & Stones
+ R 94
+ 231.1%

 

29 January 2015 – CCMA Conciliation

Pretoria, 28 January 2015 – The South African Revenue Service (SARS) can confirm that the unfair labour practice dispute with regard to the suspension of
5 December 2014 was amicably resolved through Conciliation at the CCMA today. The resolution is only with regard to the unfair labour practice dispute lodged by Mr Pillay on 12 December 2014. It is a matter of public knowledge that the 05 December 2014 suspension was set aside by the Labour Court on
18 December 2014.

Today’s CCMA resolution has no effect on Mr Pillay’s suspension of 21 January 2015 which is still effective pending an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct, acts of impropriety and bringing the organisation’s name and reputation into disrepute. SARS advises that the aforesaid investigation is at an advanced stage. The 21 January 2015 suspension was made after affording Mr Pillay a reasonable and fair opportunity from the 19 December 2014 until 16 January 2015 to provide reasons as to why he should not be suspended. In this regard, SARS hereby unequivocally state that Mr Pillay’s suspension of 21 January 2015 is still effective despite today’s CCMA resolution.

Mr Pillay and SARS have exercised their rights to keep the CCMA resolution confidential and no party is permitted to publicly disclose the details thereof.

30 January 2015 deadline

IRP6 form issueWe are fixing the medical scheme fees tax credit field being ‘greyed out’, use this work-around for now,read moreI need my tax numberForgotten your tax number? You can request it from SARS in various ways, read moreSingle RegistrationThe way you register for tax & customs and update your existing details has changed from 12 May 2014, read moreTransferring taxpayers on eFilingImportant changes have been made when transferring a taxpayer on eFiling. For more information,read morePaying SARSThere are a number of options available to you, if you want to make a payment to SARS,read morePayment Advice Notice (PAN)When paying at the bank, no other printed communication will be accepted by the banks; only a Payment Advice Notice read moreForgotten your eFiling login details?If you’ve forgotten your eFiling login details, it’s simple you can either do it online or over the phone,read moreMerging all types of taxesFrom 1 November 2014, a new merging function is available on eFiling, read more

Dividends Tax

What’s new? 
27 January 2015 – Legal changes made to Dividends TaxLimited legal changes have been made to Dividends Tax following the promulgation of the Acts on 20 January 2015. These changes include:
11 December 2014 – Latest Business Requirements Specification (BRS) availableThe updated SARS External BRS – Administration of Dividends Tax is now available.What is Dividends Tax?
Dividends Tax is a tax charged at 15% on shareholders when dividends are paid to them, and, under normal circumstances, is withheld from their dividend payment by a withholding agent (either the company paying the dividend or, where a regulated intermediary is involved, by the latter). A dividend is in essence any payment by a company to a shareholder for a share in that company (excluding the return of contributed tax capital, i.e. consideration received by a company for the issue of shares). It is triggered by the payment of a dividend by any:

South African tax resident company; or
Foreign Company whose shares are listed on the JSE.Dividend payments by headquarter companies are not subject to Dividends Tax.
Dividends Tax replaced STC in order to:

align South Africa with the international norm where the recipient of the dividend, not the company paying it, is liable for the tax (South Africa was one of only a few countries with a corporate level tax on dividends, such as STC)  
make South Africa a more attractive destination for international investment by eliminating the perception of a higher corporate tax rate (STC is an extra corporate tax) coupled with lower accounting profits (STC had to be accounted for in the Statement of Comprehensive Income (Income Statement))Some beneficial owners of dividends are entitled to an exemption or a reduced rate (foreigners) under the Dividends Tax system, whereas dividends received by them under the STC system were taxed in full in the hands of the company declaring the dividend.

Who should pay it?
Dividends Tax is payable by the beneficial owner of the dividend, but is withheld from the dividend payment and paid to SARS by a withholding agent. The person liable for the tax, however, remains ultimately responsible to pay the tax should the withholding agent fail to or withhold the incorrect tax. An exception to this general principle is where a dividend consists of a distribution of an asset in specie, resulting in the liability for the tax falling on the company itself (such as with STC), which means that it may not withhold the tax from the dividend payment.

How much will be paid?
The current rate of Dividends tax is 15% unless an exemption or a reduced rate is applicable.

When should it be paid?
Dividends Tax applies to any dividend declared and paid from 1 April 2012 onwards, and the withholding agent (either the company or the regulated intermediary) should pay the tax withheld to SARS on or before the last day of the month following the month in which the dividend was paid. Dividends Tax payments should be accompanied by a return (DTR01/02). Penalties and interest may be levied for late payments of dividends tax or the late submission of dividends tax returns.

What steps must I take?
As a shareholder (in either a company that is resident in South Africa or in a foreign company whose shares are listed at the JSE) you will become liable for the Dividend Tax when a dividend is paid to you. However, the relevant withholding agent will have to withhold and pay the tax to SARS. The withholding agent should also send you the required declaration and undertaking form(s) for completion if you wish to qualify for any of the exemptions or a reduced rate in terms of a DTA (foreign residents only). The completed form must be sent to the withholding agent before it may exempt the dividend payment or withhold at a reduced rate. 

What is the difference between Dividends Tax and Secondary Tax on Companies?
The main difference lies in who is liable for the tax. Dividends Tax is a tax levied on shareholders when they receive dividends, but STC was a tax levied on companies on the declaration of dividends. There is no overlap between STC and Dividends Tax. If a dividend was declared before 1 April 2012 (irrespective of actual payment date) it was subject to STC. Only where the dividend is declared and paid on or after 1 April 2012 will it be subject to Dividends Tax

East Asia and the Pacific: Interview With Nattha Komolvadhin of ...

Introduction (Thai)

Eight months after the May 22, 2014 coup in Thailand, reactions have come from western countries such as the U.S. and EU that have degraded diplomatic and military relationships in Thailand. But today, eight months after the coup, a senior diplomat from the U.S., Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, is visiting Thailand. What would this mean to Thai-U.S. relations, as well as regional stability and the Thai-U.S. alliance in its 182nd anniversary? Tonight on Tob Jote, I’ll be talking with Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel.(end Thai)QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, thank you for joining me.ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you very much for having me, Khun Nattha.QUESTION: Before we are moving forward to see the current situation and future situation between Thailand and U.S. relations, I just want to bring you back to our recent past of the past eight months. You were here in Thailand last year in April. Then 44 days later it was the coup on 22nd of May last year. Were you disappointed that the coup happened?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, without a doubt the coup was a setback to U.S.-Thai relations but let’s remember that we have a very rich and deep history of more than 180 years and we have a very rich and important future. The U.S. and Thailand cooperate on a broad range of issues that are really important to each of us, to the region, to the world. Whether it’s law-enforcement or counterterrorism or whether it’s economic development, trade, and investment. It’s science and technology, it’s regional security, it’s education. These are big and important agendas for each of us. That hasn’t ended although, of course, we have made adjustments and the coup in May had an impact on our relationship.QUESTION: But the press statement by Secretary John Kerry was very strong in condemning Thailand after the coup. Did you try to stop him because you came and saw the situation in Thailand or did you support him to issue that statement?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, this is the way that I hope you and Thai people will look at it. America is your friend. I’m here as a friend. Secretary Kerry spoke as a friend. And when you think about it, it’s really your friends who will tell you honestly what they think and what they see as your real interests. Part of the reason that Secretary Kerry sent me here is to make sure that we are communicating directly and openly. We have a wonderful embassy here led by a great Chargé d’affaires but it’s also important for the leadership, for the political parties, for civil society to hear directly from a Washington official and to be able to speak and know that they are being given a full hearing directly by Washington. That’s my mission.QUESTION: Given that Thailand is still under martial law and we are still moving toward roadmap for the next election, but to have you here even though under martial law, does it mean the situation between Thailand and the U.S. is getting better?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, what will ultimately allow the U.S.-Thai relationship to reach its full potential will be the restoration of a credible, democratically-elected civilian government. And part of what concerns us and one of the main messages that I brought to all of my meetings, to both of the political parties; to the government; to civil society. Is that only an inclusive process, a process that allows each segment, not just a few, but each segment of Thai society to feel that their voice is being heard and that they have a role to play in designing the new constitution or the next government. Only an inclusive process will lead to long-term stability and long-term stability is important not just to Thailand but it’s very important to the United States because Thailand is such an important ally and partner.QUESTION: You came to talk with different parties. Talking to former Prime Minister Khun Yingluck Shinawatra, Khun Abhisit Vejjajiva, and current Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn. What’s the view that you’ve got from talking to at least three parties?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, I’d also add that I’ve talked more broadly than that to a number of representatives of civil society and academia, etc. Making sure that we have a balanced picture of views because what’s on the minds of the Thai people matters a lot to us. There’s no doubt that all of the people that I met love their country. I think that there is a common theme, an understanding, that there should be peace and there should be reconciliation although there may be different views about what exactly reconciliation looks like and how to get there. I think that the importance that all of the people that you mention place on their friendship and partnership with the United States and the good opinion of the international community gives me confidence that our messages are being heard. I believe that I got a very fair and open hearing from former Prime Ministers Yingluck and Abhisit as well from Foreign Minister Tanasak. And that dialogue, that exchange of views, is, I think, one of the things that can contribute to improvement in the situation. As the situation improves so too will the U.S.-Thai relationship increasingly normalize.QUESTION: You told me after discussion with different parties everyone seems to have the idea of moving toward reconciliation but still have different views. How do you think they can reconcile or move towards reconciliations and to move towards inclusive process like what the U.S. would like to see? Do you think it would be probable?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Different parties have different roles. Right now I would offer that there is a key role to be played by the government in creating more political space that will allow not only the political parties but the different parts of Thai society more freely to express their views and to participate actively in the discussion about what kind of government is best here in Thailand. I was very direct and very candid in my discussions with the Foreign Minister about our concerns regarding the continuation of martial law. I was very direct and very open about the importance that we place on inclusivity, on inclusive political process. And I was also very direct in sharing our concerns that the restrictions on freedoms, and these are universal freedoms, like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and so on. That those restrictions in the long term work against the best interests of stability in Thailand. They are certainly problematic in terms of Thailand’s international reputation and Thailand’s international influence.QUESTION: You raised the issue of your concern on martial law. Do you have a timeframe in mind for how long you can think of the U.S. can tolerate the situation of martial law in Thailand?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The way to think about this issue, I think, is holistically. So clearly the sooner that democratic and civil rights are restored to a broad spectrum of Thai citizens, the better. Timing matters, the timing of elections matter, but timing is only one aspect. The inclusive nature of the dialogue is another. Adherence to universal principles, international principles, is yet another. So the key thing, I believe, is for all Thai citizens to be allowed to give voice to their beliefs and to their hopes in a constructive way because I think that you want all Thai citizens to feel that they have a stake in the process. If people are presented with a fait accompli, something that they don’t feel reflected their views in a…and certainly in a democratic system there will be problems.QUESTION: If the timeframe is not the issue it means that the roadmap of the current government to have elections, perhaps early next year, is still bearable?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The timeframe is certainly, timing is certainly one issue. My observation is that the longer that martial law remains in force, and the longer that it takes for the inclusive dialogue to occur, the longer that it takes for a constitution draft to be developed that reflects the views of not just one segment of society, but the broad-spectrum of society. And the longer it takes to get to elections, the harder it is for Thailand to convince the international community that this story will have a good ending. That the government is, in fact, committed to the full restoration of democracy. I worry about the impact on the Thai economy, which is significant. 2015 is a hugely important year partly because of the ASEAN Economic Community but also because the TPP, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement, will be concluded this year and it represents 40% of global GDP. Thailand is not now a member of the TPP negotiating process, but Thailand’s neighbors are. Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei. And when that TPP free market opens, the competition will increase not decrease. My point is: the world is changing. There are many, many challenges that mean that the US and Thailand should be cooperating more actively, not less. So, the sooner that these steps are taken, the better.QUESTION: What’s the answer you got from Foreign Minister in order to keep martial law? He must be telling you that to keep peace and order in Thailand is still very essential at this moment.ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: There’s a long-standing principle of diplomacy that you don’t read out to the press what the other person said in a confidential diplomatic meeting so I will leave it to your Foreign Minister and to Foreign Minister Thanasak to decide what he wants to say about his message. However, I feel that he listened very carefully to me. I tried to be respectful but clear and direct in conveying Washington’s views and concerns. I thought I got a very respectful hearing. Secondly, let me say that maintaining peace and order in a country is, of course, the responsibility of any government but it very seldom requires recourse to martial law or to tough measures. As a friend of Thailand, I believe that the sooner that martial law is lifted…the sooner that democratic space and civil rights are restored, the faster the healing process, the smoother the reconciliation process. That’s my heartfelt advice from a friend.QUESTION: But personally how do you see the situation has changed from previous trips that you were here before the coup and right now? Do you feel that the atmosphere is moving toward reconciliation? What do you make of the situation?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: In April when I came I urged dialogue among the parties. I still think that it’s important to have dialogue, but frankly the dialogue today that will do the most good is a dialogue among the people of Thailand; among the citizens and the voters, not only the adherents of one party or another. And not only between the party leaders, but a dialogue within the society to really come to terms with what it is that Thailand seeks to achieve in political stability.QUESTION: In terms of timing, people must be wondering whether you come at this juncture is like to show support to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra because just last week she was impeached on corruption charges on rice pledging scheme. What do you see the situation that people raise this concern that perhaps you are showing support to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I came here to show support for the people and the Kingdom of Thailand, not for any political party or for any political actor. My trip was planned and confirmed, my meetings were arranged long before the decision on former Prime Minister Yingluck. The impeachment only occurred a few days ago. I’ve been on the road for almost a week, so it’s definitely mistaken to suggest that the impeachment is behind my visit here. It’s equally mistaken to suggest that the U.S. supports any political actor or any political party. We have a long, long history that offers abundant evidence of our commitment not to a party but to the people and to the Kingdom.QUESTION: But what is your concern of the judicial process under this government toward former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The way that I would put it, taking a step back, is this: In a modern society like Thailand, it’s critically important that the people, the citizens, have faith in their judicial and political institutions. It’s important that people believe that the decisions that are taking place in those institutions are objective and are without political agendas. From an international point of view there are clearly questions raised in this action but the opinion that matters in the long run will be the opinion of the Thai people and the opinion of the Thai citizens. My hope is that there will be a process of inclusion. That doesn’t mean that it will favor the party of former Prime Minister Yingluck or for that matter Khun Abhisit, but an inclusive process that allows everyone to say “Even if I didn’t get my way, I got my chance to have my voice heard.”QUESTION: But did you not see the issue that the former Prime Minister has to go through judicial process and being impeached that was because corruption charges or corruption actions which were inspected by National Commission on Corruption in Thailand, which has shown evidence.ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: My purpose here today is not to critique the pros and cons of a particular decision, let alone the impeachment proceedings. It’s to make the broader point: As long as there is a major segment of Thai society that feels utterly excluded, that feels that the treatment that they and their representatives receive is unfair, whether that’s justified or not, there will be a division in Thai society and Thai politics. That is not a recipe for the kind of long-term stability that will help the Thai economy grow. That will help Thai students succeed. And that will allow the government to focus on the things that it should be focusing on. Right now the people in authority are concentrating on internal political challenges. The world is presenting Thailand and the United States with global challenges; with challenges from infectious diseases; from natural disasters and climate change; the challenge of economic competition and the IT revolution; the challenge of instability and tensions in the South China Sea and in the region; the challenge of making ASEAN into an effective and unified institution in the region. These are the things that we should be working on.QUESTION: Let me carry on some questions on U.S.-Thailand relations before East Asia affairs. Is it the form of punishment on Thailand that the US hasn’t appointed a new Ambassador to Thailand since Ambassador Kenney left Thailand in November of last year or because the U.S. doesn’t have a top diplomat who has expertise on Thailand? What’s the situation?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Both of those suggested answers are completely wrong. The United States is not in the business of punishing friends and allies, let alone Thailand. The United States has a deep bench of immensely qualified diplomats and it’s by no means unusual for there to be a gap between the departure of one Ambassador and the arrival of another. We will, as soon as the White House makes an announcement, be proud to send a distinguished man or woman to represent the United States in Thailand. We’re very proud not only of our former Ambassador but also of the current chargé and really outstanding team in Bangkok. In addition to their work, my visit here is to insure sure that we maintain good lines of communication.QUESTION: And with Cobra Gold joint military exercise, after the U.S. has suspended military assistance for 4.7 million dollars but still Cobra Gold is still going on. What do you see is the form of closer cooperation as the military exercise was scaled down?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: As you point out, in the aftermath of the coup, we scaled down and refocused the Cobra Gold exercise. But let’s remember that not only have we conducted this exercise for over 30 years, it’s a multinational exercise that includes something on the order of 30 countries. It’s not only the U.S. and Thailand. Moreover, this year we are welcoming India’s participation for the first time. So what we think is appropriate in terms of our focus in Cobra Gold and certainly an important area for cooperation between our two militaries is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Whether it is super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or the tragic typhoons and tsunami that Thailand and your neighbors have experienced, the fact of the matter is that global weather patterns are changing and creating huge strains and challenges in the region. Ensuring that we have the ability to move quickly together to coordinate in a crisis is exactly what the U.S., the Philippines, and our partners, should be doing and that’s what Cobra Gold seeks to exercise.QUESTION: On the TIP report, trafficking in persons report, last year Thailand was downgraded to Tier III. What’s the situation this year? Do you think, because the government has to submit a revision report, what will be the possibility of a new revision of the U.S. on Thailand?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I’ve followed closely the statements by the government regarding trafficking. I think I’m hearing and seeing a political commitment to take this challenge, and it’s a global challenge, it’s something that threatens all of us and it’s a problem that we all have. I think I’m seeing a commitment to take this challenge seriously. But I’m also monitoring very closely the actual results, the actual facts on the ground. And there I have to say that I’m still looking for measurable progress. We both need to see progress in arrests; arrests of traffickers, not of trafficked individuals. I think it’s important to see more prosecutions. It’s important that action be taken against police or other officials who are not doing their duty or who are, in fact, abetting and aiding trafficking. Whether the issue is trafficking in industries like the seafood industry, which has very negative implications for an important economic sector in Thailand or whether it’s the horrific trafficking of women for sexual purposes, which is a terrible human rights violation and also undermines the empowerment and development of women within the Kingdom. Whatever kind of trafficking we’re looking at, the important thing is showing real results not just pledging to do a better job.QUESTION: On East Asia affairs, you see growing military friction on China, South Korea, Japan. Do you think it’s…what’s the concern of the US on East China Sea?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: On the East China Sea? In November in Beijing during APEC, Prime Minister Abe of Japan and President Xi Jinping of China announced an agreement, a four point agreement, that represents a significant political step forward both in their relationship and their approach to the differences in the East China Sea. Now, it’s true that we haven’t seen a change for the better in terms of the behavior and the activity of Chinese vessels that are increasingly pushing into territory that has been, and is, administered by Japan. But at least there is a meaningful dialogue underway between Japan and China. And they have managed to reach an agreement as well as some practical steps on the military to military side. In the South China Sea, however, we see problematic behavior but there hasn’t been the conclusion of a binding code of conduct between China and ASEAN, even though they committed to do that twelve years ago. And they’ve been working very intensely over the last few years. Now, Thailand has a special role has a special role to play. Like the United States, Thailand is not a claimant country. Like the United States, Thailand has very close relations, of course, with the ASEAN claimants but also with China. But unlike the United States, Thailand is the country coordinator for China and in that respect it is our hope that Thai diplomacy and ASEAN unity will bring about agreement on the Chinese side, finally, to come to an agreement on a code of conduct.QUESTION: And let me bring you to the last question. Do you see China’s power on sea control in this region as a threat to the U.S.? Growing capability of China of sea control?ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: There are two ways of looking at this issue. One is simply as a matter of maritime power. The United States has by far the most capable military and the most capable navy in the entire world. And we have close security cooperation with our allies. And now our partners. The right way to look at the issue is one of universal principles and international law. There is no reason why it should matter how big one navy is versus another country’s navy. That should not be the issue. The issue should be this – the Asia-Pacific region is the economic driver of global growth. What has made this region prosperous has been stability and adherence to the rule of law. The principle that it isn’t big versus small, it’s all of us playing by the same rules. The recipe for stability and increased growth in the Asia-Pacific region is for each country to respect international law; to respect the rights of their neighbors, and to accept the principle of self-restraint.QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, thank you very much for joining me. (Thai) Khap khan ka.ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: It’s my pleasure and thank you very much Khun Natcha.Closing (Thai)And these are the reflections of U.S. senior diplomat Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel during his visit to Thailand eight months after the coup on the stance of the U.S. government towards the situation in Thailand and the Asia-Pacific region. That’s all Tob Jote for tonight. Sawaddee ka.

East Asia and the Pacific: Remarks at the Institute of Security and ...

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Professor Thitinan, thank you so much for that kind introduction. Hello Bangkok, Sawadee krap. It’s really great to be back in Thailand and it’s really an honor for me to be here at Chula — a great, great school with a wonderful reputation. Let me start with a public service announcement. The bureau I’m responsible for, the East-Asia Pacific Bureau, now has a Twitter account, in large part thanks to former Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney, who has come back and joined our Bureau. So I want you all, if you would, to follow us on Twitter “@USAsiaPacific.” So I got that commercial out of the way.
I first visited Thailand many years ago in the early 90’s as a junior officer; stayed for at least a week or so at the home of a Foreign Service friend who was serving here, and like all Americans — like all visitors to Thailand — I fell in love. The warmth and the hospitality of the Thai people made a huge impression on me. I experience it every time I come back.
I also had the great honor while working at the White House at the National Security Council to accompany President Obama when he came to Thailand in 2012 in November. And the extraordinary experience of visiting Wat Po, the honor of being received by His Majesty the King, similarly made a profound impression on the President and has stayed with him.
So, I come here as a friend. I’m in the middle of a trip through Southeast Asia. I also have stopped already in the Philippines and Malaysia. When I leave here, I’m on my way to Cambodia. Now I didn’t bring the President of the United States with me this time, but I am here for the same reason that President Obama came to Asia twice last year and has come on an annual basis prior to that.
I came here for the same reason that so many students and business people are flocking to the Asia-Pacific and the reason that our merchant ships and our navy ships, frankly, call on ports here. It’s because the United States is also a Pacific nation. We are a resident Pacific power, and our prosperity and our security is closely linked — inextricably linked — with that of Asia. Our communities are connected by trade and travel and family ties.
And our fates are closely linked by the many global challenges that face us from climate change to pandemic diseases to violent extremism. One thing that I have learned is that no nation, however strong, can solve these problems alone. So first I’ll talk about the regional system — the regional architecture — that that United States and our allies and partners, including Thailand, have worked on and built to meet them. And then I’ll spend some time talking about U.S.-Thai relations and what we see as the pathway forward.
For many decades — 2015 is in fact the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War and the creation of the United Nations — the U.S. has worked with Pacific and Asian allies. We’ve worked with partners like the ASEAN members to advance security, prosperity, and democracy through the region. And together, we’ve built an architecture, a system of regional rules and institutions that aim at strengthening the rule of law.
This architecture, this system, has helped to keep the peace in the region, and many many nations have taken advantage of the space provided by this peace and stability to develop both politically and economically. We see this in the many vibrant democracies that have risen over the decades in places as diverse and as different as Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan.
Looking closer to this neighborhood — while significant challenges remain in Myanmar — we’ve seen a historic opening up of that country after decades of isolation. And next door in Cambodia, the agreement between the government and the opposition party last year has now created some real opportunities for reform and for strengthening democracy. And in all of these places, democratic progress and economic progress have gone hand in hand. And we’ve often seen success in one country inspire progress by a neighbor.
The Obama administration has supported this region’s progress in many ways, such as increasing our direct engagement with ASEAN, which we see as a pillar of the international order. [The President] decided to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. He appointed our first – and now our second — U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN. And he, year after year, has personally and actively participated in the East Asia Summit.
The U.S. strongly supports building up that summit – the EAS- as the premier forum for allowing leaders to address regional political and security issues, and that includes challenges like the disputes in the South China Sea. And we also strongly support the ASEAN Economic community that is set to launch at the end of this year as well.
We support, have hosted, and actively participate in APEC which is the economic pillar of the Asia-Pacific region. And APEC has done a lot to further the recovery from the global financial crisis, to empower women economically, and to ensure that growth is inclusive, that its benefits are helping people out of poverty and helping to grow the middle class throughout the region.
And in APEC this year in Manila, we intend to explore how we can help expand the practice of Corporate Social Responsibility to promote more inclusive economic growth.
Now, the oldest, the most venerable pillars of the regional order are our alliances, including our alliance between the United States and the Kingdom of Thailand, and the United States and the Republic of the Philippines. That’s true for Australia, it’s true for Japan, and it’s true for the Republic of Korea. This system of alliances and security partnerships is not a legacy of the 20th century. It is an investment in the 21st century. It is essential. And that’s true for a number of reasons.
Number one – our alliance system is the backbone of cooperation in the region and around the globe. And it stands for the rule of law when it’s challenged — and that applies for example to problematic actions to unilaterally change the status quo in the South China Sea. We work regularly with our allies to make sure that our forces can operate together in a crisis at a moment’s notice.
And America’s enduring 182-year and counting close relationship with Thailand is no exception. In fact, together we’ve addressed humanitarian crises, together we’ve responded to natural disasters, we’ve combatted piracy, advanced public health, protected refugees, collaborated on counter-terrorism and law enforcement efforts to fight threats to international security. This cooperation is important to both of us, the region, and the world, and it will continue.
But our relationship with Thailand is defined by more than the number of years that we’ve been allies, or even more than our common interests or our aspirations. Our friendship, founded so long ago, has been constantly refreshed over time — by Prince Mahidol’s time in the U.S. studying at Harvard; by the birth of His Majesty the King in Massachusetts; by His Majesty’s significant contributions to American culture, by many many connections.
Our broad, enduring friendship is refreshed year in and year out by the thousands of Thai students who come to study in the United States every year, and I hope you will soon be among them. Similarly by the many Americans who come to Thailand to study here. So for over two centuries, Americans have lived in and contributed to Thailand in various ways just as the Thai have done in America.
We stood as partners in WWI, supporting democratic ideals during the conflict in Indochina. We fought the scourge of terrorism as partners for decades and continue to do so today in facing the new and virulent threat of radical jihadism. And we’ve been partners to bringing stability and prosperity to the people of Thailand and more broadly, the region.
For over half a century, the Peace Corps and USAID workers have helped with teaching, helped with rural development. And our health care workers and scientists have collaborated on research to combat malaria and HIV/AIDS. Our law enforcement officers tackle trafficking in persons, narcotics; trafficking in wildlife. And this will continue.
We’ve also enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial economic and trading relationship. The United States is Thailand’s third largest trading partner. American companies are major investors in Thailand, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs here, bringing leading technologies, bringing high standards, and I think that the experience of these U.S. companies shows that it’s not just the quantity of trade and investment that’s important — although the quantity matters — it’s the quality.
Doing business with America means more training and more skilled development for Thai workers. It means better labor and environmental standards that promote growth. It means an engagement that is helping Thailand to escape the middle income trap and to improve the lives of regular people.
And I particularly want to pick up on Professor Thitinan’s reference to a way in which we are planting the seeds for the future, investing in the future of our relationship today, which is the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative — YSEALI, definitely not silly. Now I understand – am I right in thinking there are some YSEALI members in the audience today? Let me see. (Pause.) Alright, welcome, welcome. Well, I’m a fan. Good for you.
I hope that the numbers will expand and that pretty soon all the students will be raising their hands. Because not only is YSEALI a project that President Obama has personally invested a great deal of priority to… as somebody who, himself, was a young person in Southeast Asia for a few years himself, he feels a very powerful connection. He’s a believer in this program. I’ve been with him repeatedly in Southeast Asia when he’s hosted town hall meetings with YSEALI members here in the region, including some Thai students who asked him questions — tough questions.
And we’ve brought YSEALI members to the United States as well, and we do so on a regular basis. It’s one way that we’re engaging with young leaders and helping you to engage with each other and to engage across national borders within the ten ASEAN countries, to help promote an ASEAN identity. With your help, YSEALI is creating a cadre of young leaders here that work in partnership with each other and the United States to tackle the challenges that you have identified as important, things that matter to you and that you see as challenges: economic development, environmental protection, education, civic engagement.
I’ve been impressed and I know that President Obama has been tremendously impressed by the quality of the people, of you, of YSEALI members and it’s great to be able to interact with you and I strongly support what you’re doing.
Now more broadly, beyond the students and beyond YSEALI, I know that this is a thoughtful group and you follow the news and you’re interested in bilateral relations. So while I’ve spoken at some length about what defines our partnership, both historically and prospectively, I also need to say something about the political developments here in Thailand and the impact that has on U.S.-Thai relations over the course of the past year.
The fact is, and it’s unfortunate, but our relationship with Thailand has been challenged by the military coup that removed a democratically-elected government eight months ago. This morning, I had a chance to sit down and hold discussions with first, former Prime Minister Yingluck, then former Prime Minister Abhisit, and then with the interim Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Tanasak.
And in each case, I’ve discussed the current political situation in Thailand with each of them. And all sides have spoken about the importance of reconciliation and their commitment to work to achieve Thailand’s democratic future.
Now I understand this is an extremely sensitive issue, and I bring it up with all humility and great respect for the Kingdom of Thailand and for the Thai people.
The United States does not take sides in Thai politics. We believe it is for the Thai people to determine the legitimacy of their political and legal processes. But we are concerned about the significant restraints on freedoms since the coup, including restrictions on speech and on assembly, and I’ve been very straightforward about these concerns.
We’re also particularly concerned that the political process doesn’t seem to represent all elements of Thai society. Now I want to repeat, we’re not attempting to dictate the political path that Thailand should follow to get back to democracy or take sides in Thai politics. But an inclusive process promotes political reconciliation, which in turn is key to long-term stability. That’s where our interests lie. The alternative — a narrow, restricted process — carries the risk of leaving many Thai citizens feeling that they’ve been excluded from the political process.
That’s the reason why we continue to advocate for a broader and more inclusive political process that allows all sectors of society to feel represented, to feel that their voices are being heard. I’d add that the perception of fairness is also extremely important and although this is being pretty blunt, when an elected leader is removed from office, is deposed, then impeached by the authorities — the same authorities that conducted the coup — and then when a political leader is targeted with criminal charges at a time when the basic democratic processes and institutions in the country are interrupted, the international community is going to be left with the impression that these steps could in fact be politically driven.
And that’s why we hope to see a process that reinforces the confidence of the Thai people in their government and their judicial institutions and builds confidence internationally that Thailand is moving towards stable and participatory democracy.
Ending martial law throughout the country and removing restrictions of speech and assembly – these would be important steps as part of a generally inclusive reform process that reflects the broad diversity of views within the country. And we hope that the results of that process will be stable democratic institutions that reflect and respond to the will of the Thai people.
So the message that I’m bringing to all of the people that I’m meeting with today and to you, to the Thai nation, is the same: for the United States, Thailand is a valued friend and important ally. Thailand is a country with whom we’ve got a long-standing history of broad cooperation on the range of issues that I’ve outlined, issues that are important not just to our two countries but to the region and to the globe.
We care deeply about this relationship.
We care deeply about our friendship with all the Thai people.
And we care deeply about Thailand’s prospects for success, and we wish you well.
Let me stop there, and with Professor Thitinan, let me try to respond to some of your questions. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Good afternoon Mr. Assistant Secretary. I am Wasit Bantong from Thammasat University and my question is, in your opinion, what are the skills needed in the 21st century for young people because in our generation I believe that we are going to face several challenges including climate changes and cyberterrorism and these kind of things. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well thank you. What I tell young students and officers who join the State Department and join the Foreign Service is that the number one most important attribute, the most important thing to have to succeed is passion. Now, you could argue that that’s not a skill. But what distinguishes people who are truly successful, I believe, is that they are doing something that they believe in, something that’s important, and something that they love. It is certainly my experience that people who have a passion get good at what they’re doing, and people who are good at what they’re doing have a lot of fun. Now, more specifically, I think that in Southeast Asia which is increasingly well-wired electronically thanks to the IT revolution, it goes without saying that the ability to master social media and high-tech platforms is essential. Language skills are a major asset, and of course English is very much the language of commerce and diplomacy. The United States has strongly supported English-language training programs throughout Southeast Asia. I think it gives students – young people in this region – competitive advantage to be functional in English. I also believe that gaining a perspective on one’s own country and own society comes most easily when you leave it. It was true for me – it’s true for many people – that you don’t necessarily understand or appreciate your own country and your own culture until you have seen it from a distance. And while I recognize that it can be expensive and it’s not always easy – even if you’re not going far – I see great value in having some experience living in another culture and seeing your own society through someone else’s eyes. Thanks.
QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Caitlin Stark-Bonmeyers (sp?), and I am visiting PhD student here at Chula from Purdue University and I’ve spent the last three years living in Asia Pacific, in Japan and now here, and as an America I get asked a lot of questions about American foreign policy and politics and things like that. When you live abroad you’re kind of the representative of your country. And a question we get asked a lot is, Why…(pause). So you talk a lot about bringing democracy to other countries, and a lot of people think that for some countries, democracy isn’t right for everyone. So I don’t have the answer when people ask me that and I was wondering what your take is.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. If everyone heard, the question is what makes America so sure that democracy is right for everyone. Well, first of all, there’s a wonderful and famous saying attributed to Winston Churchill that goes something like — “Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others.”
Boiled down to its essence, although there are many forms of democratic government and there will always be debates about the extent to which elections mean democracy, you can’t go anywhere on Earth and show me a citizen of a country who says “my voice doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care about the future of my family, or my village, or my town, or my county, or my country”. Everyone — every citizen — has a voice and those voices should be heard. Now, there has to be compromise and there has to be order and law. But democracy and the rule of law go hand in hand.
There’s another saying that “Power corrupts.” And the great strength in my view of democracy is that it forces societies or allows societies to build institutions — institutions that will regulate the behavior of citizens according to compromise, not according to absolute principles. Abraham Lincoln was famous for saying in the heat of the Civil War that we should dedicate ourselves to government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Democracy is imperfect, but it gives a voice to all of its citizens. It builds institutions that defend the weak, and it has a resilience and a self-correcting mechanism to it that allows the voters to decide that they’ve had enough, to make their views known, and to take a different tack when there is consensus among the majority. That would be my answer. Thank you.
QUESTION: My name is Nor Fahm and I work for the BBC. Last week at the dialogue in Manila, you and the Philippine counterpart said a lot about the South China Sea, and after that the Chinese spokeswoman said that the third party countries should not get involved and should not instigate tension in the Sea. What is your reply to that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, I have regular and very constructive dialogues with my Chinese counterparts as does, of course, Secretary Kerry and as does President Obama. And we have been clear and consistent in conveying to the Chinese the area where we are neutral, and the areas where we take a position with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The United States isn’t taking one country’s side against another when it comes to the matter of how the dispute over sovereignty will ultimately be resolved. We fully agree that that is an issue that should be resolved among the claimants themselves. But we believe strongly that it should be resolved peacefully and through diplomatic means. Where we do take positions, however, is on matters of international law and international rights such as freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, the right to unimpeded commerce.
We oppose unilateral actions that aim to advance a claim by changing the status quo or coercing or threatening another country or claimant. That’s a principle that the United States will always support, and I believe that Thailand and other countries in the region support and value that same principle.
So our encouragement of the parties to exercise self-restraint, to apply the golden rule of not doing things to each other that they don’t want done to them, our advocacy of the principle that universal principles and law apply equally to big countries and to small, and our push for constructive, peaceful management of disputes is by no means interference. That is part of our contribution to the stability and the security of the Asia-Pacific region that, among other things, has been instrumental in China’s extraordinary growth.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Boontida, I am a fourth year student from Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, majoring in International Relations. In our studies, we have been reading a lot about the retreat of democracy and the upsurge of the authoritarian rule. So in our region here, it is a mix between the two. We have more or less democracy, or even none at all. So I would like to ask your opinion about the outlook of democratization in Southeast Asia, with special reference to Thailand and Myanmar.
QUESTION: A privilege [to be here] because I was alumni of Chula too. My question is about Thailand. You have been talking about the “un-necessity” of martial law. You have been talking about compromise and the rule of law. And I guess that you also talked to Foreign Minister this morning too. So I would like to hear how he responded to these issues. And how do you measure so far, from left to right, where we are standing now? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well let me start with the specific question and then go more broadly to the issue of the advance and retreat of democracy in Southeast Asia. I will leave it for the Deputy Prime Minister/Interim Foreign Minister to speak for himself. It’s a well-established diplomatic principle that one does not either disclose details of a diplomatic conversation, but certainly one does not speak for the other side.
I have no hesitation, though, in telling you that I think that I got a serious hearing. I came to Thailand on behalf of my government, both to listen — listen to the government, listen to the political leaders, listen to civil society, and listen to you — but also to convey our views and our hopes for Thailand. And I said to the Foreign Minister as I have said to the political leaders and to you today in the speech that the United States has a huge interest in Thailand’s success.
A strong, economically thriving, influential, politically-stable Thailand is an essential element of a thriving and growing region. We believe that the curtailment of civil rights, the restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, don’t in the long run contribute to stability.
We believe that taking steps soon to end martial law, to allow for legitimate and peaceful voicing of views, and to promote an inclusive process in which all sectors of society feel that they have had a hearing, will generate institutions and outcomes in which all members of society, all sectors of society believe that they have a stake.
And it’s important for all citizens to have a stake in the political process and for them to have respect and trust in the political and the judicial institutions. Now that brings me to the broader question. There is no on and off switch that takes you to democracy in one step.
Democracy is about allowing the citizens actively to participate in shaping the decisions and the future of their own country. It’s a tough job and all of us are constantly seeking to refine and improve our systems. No system is perfect, certainly not the system we have in the United States. But the push for democracy, the push for justice, the push for accountability, the push for equality doesn’t come out of a textbook. It comes out of people’s hearts. It comes out of people’s belief and conviction that they can create a better life and a better system for their families and for their children.
I believe that the push for justice and for democracy is inexorable, that it is unstoppable. There are obstacles, there are setbacks, but that fundamental quest for opportunity and that fundamental sense of justice is universal, not an American value, not an Asian value.
Now in the case of Myanmar, after 40+ years of authoritarian rule, we have seen an extraordinary process of economic and political reform. It’s been dramatic and it’s been difficult. There are still significant challenges ahead. But I don’t believe that the citizens of Myanmar, who have experienced access to communications, who have found new opportunities, who have been able to voice and make common cause with like-minded neighbors and friends, I don’t think they are willing to go backwards. I don’t think that they want to retreat, and it is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the international community, for Myanmar’s neighbors, and for partners like the United States to help them to succeed.
QUESTION: I believe that General Tanasak has briefed you on measures taken by the government to fight human trafficking so I’d like to know if you could assess these measures and hear your recommendations as well. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much Daniel Russel. I have two questions. Can you tell me, apart from Cobra Gold, what are the new activities you plan for Thai and U.S. Secondly, when the new Ambassador is coming to Bangkok? Thank you.
QUESTION: About this time last year, your Ambassador in Myanmar said that there was a target to delist at least one person from the sanctions list in Myanmar. One year on, there has been no progress along that. Is that an administrative issue, or does that reflect a change in policy towards Myanmar due to the violence in Rakhine State? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I’m here as I said to listen and to communicate. The United States uses our Embassy to do the same thing on a day to day basis. That diplomatic engagement is critically important for us, particularly in an important country like Thailand. Now we’re blessed to have a very distinguished Chargé d’affaires Patrick Murphy and a really first-class Embassy team. Trust me that there are a lot of officers who beg to be posted to Bangkok.
It’s also not unusual to have a gap of a few months in our system between the departure of the U.S. Ambassador and the arrival of his or her successor. We are working and know that the White House, when they can, will announce the appointment of a new Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand in order to continue our work.
On that regard, with respect to trafficking in persons, this is one of the many areas including law enforcement, counterterrorism, global health, trade and investment and so on where important work continues at the working level, at technical levels, because this is very much in the best interest of both countries and essential to the region. The scourge, the tragedy of human trafficking is one that cannot be ignored.
We are mindful of and appreciative of the commitments and the pledges made by the interim government with respect to trafficking — that includes the sexual trafficking of women, trafficking of labor in industry, etc. What we are seeking to do is to, in partnership, generate more measurable progress and real results. This is a topic of ongoing conversation between us in an area where we think it’s important to achieve further progress.
Cobra Gold is a regional, multi-national exercise involving not only the U.S. and Thailand but many of our important neighbors including now India, including China, and it is this year re-calibrated and scaled appropriately in the wake of the political events here. But it is proceeding and it is focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which are top priorities for all of us. I don’t have anything further to announce in terms of U.S.-Thailand events or programs.
And lastly on the issue of U.S. sanctions in Myanmar, whether it is in Myanmar or elsewhere in the world, the sanctions and including the SDN — the Special Designated Nationals list — that identifies individuals who stand in violation of important laws, we add people when the information presents itself and we remove people from the list when we are able to document behavior that warrants it.
We believe that showing how to get off the list, what kind of behavior constitutes a path to redemption, is a very powerful and positive device in encouraging reform in Myanmar as well as elsewhere. And so we’re committed to the principle of delisting — it’s a matter of making an assessment and having the appropriate authorities concur with that judgment.
QUESTION: Good afternoon Mr. Russel. I am Patriya from Chulalongkorn University. I’m studying fourth year student, political science. Over the last few years, we have been hearing about the U.S. engagement in Asia. But recently, with much going on around the world and the U.S. involvement in, for example, in the Ukraine and in the Middle East. So is the U.S. still committed to its pivot to Asia and rebalance policies? Is it still on? Can you convince us?
QUESTION: I actually been studying in the United States for my undergraduate degree. One of the things I experienced is that people with disabilities actually get more chances at education and as well at equality. There is not much here. So do you think is it possible for the United States to have engagement on that? Because as you said in your speech, there is actually a lot of things you do to actually improve the lives of people. But you have never mentioned about people with disabilities. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you very much, great question. Let me start there. First of all, sharing our experiences and encouraging progress on civic programs, for example, to assist and to fight discrimination against people with disabilities, or for that matter, discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, or for that matter on the basis of gender, is a top priority for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, as it is elsewhere. And the State Department is active, as is the White House.
We have a special envoy on disabilities. We have a special envoy on women’s empowerment. And these are programs that are integrated in our diplomatic efforts. I don’t want to sound just like a cheerleader for democracy, but the fact of the matter is that the reason that the U.S. government spends time, energy, and money in promoting these programs, in raising awareness, in sharing our know-how and expertise, and encouraging the development of good programs worldwide is because it’s important to our citizens.
This has been a grassroots movement and it’s a place where government has been responsive to what people want and what people care about. And as I said earlier, what people want is a fair chance. People want an opportunity. People want respect. People want justice. And according opportunities and justice to people that are different than us, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minorities, women, or LGBT folks, is not only worthwhile but an important objective.
More broadly with regard to the engagement in the Asia-Pacific by the United States against the backdrop of tremendous challenges and crises, not only in the Middle East where they are pretty formidable, but also in Africa, for example, which is facing terrible threats from Boko Haram and fundamentalist groups on the one hand, and infectious disease like Ebola on the other. The pursuit of our interests as the United States forces us to deal with these crises. We have no choice. That’s why Secretary Kerry has just gone to the Middle East and gone to Africa. That’s why President Obama is on his way soon to Saudi Arabia.
But what keeps us engaged in Asia — and I think that the simplest and clearest answer to whether you can believe in our continued engagement — is the fact that it is in America’s national interest. The East Asia region is the most dynamic, economically-thriving part of the world. We want to be part of it. We are part of it. The demographics, the youth figures, and the growth of the middle class in Southeast Asia is extraordinary.
We want to get to know you. We want to work with you. We want to study with you. We want to trade with you. This is essential to our economic security as well as our broader security interests. So it’s not because America is generous. It’s not as a passing fancy. It’s not because we’re afraid of China. It’s because America is a Pacific nation whose economic and security interests are so closely tied with your future and your decisions that we need to be part of your life.
And I would say that if you look at the number of times that President Obama has visited Asia, that Vice President Biden has visited Asia, that Secretary Kerry has visited Asia, you would see the evidence of how high a priority the U.S. government places on our relationships throughout this region. Thank you.

20 January 2015 – SARS Enforcement and Customs Operations for ...

Pretoria, 20 January 2015 – The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is providing an update to the media and the public on its operations to combat crimes such as smuggling, fraud and abuse of the tax system for the month of December 2014.

The aim is to inform the public about the work SARS’ Customs and Enforcement teams do on a daily basis, to provide an indication of the prevalence of tax and customs-related offences in South Africa, and to illustrate the support SARS provides to other law enforcement agencies.

Interventions to combat Fraud and Corruption
SARS will combat any form of corruption, fraud and abuse of the tax system. The following cases can be reported for December 2014:

1. Mr Sandile Mthunywa appeared on 1 December 2014 in the Johannesburg Regional Court for final sentencing on 59 counts of tax fraud (having been found guilty on 4 August 2014. A tax practitioner, Mr Mthunywa submitted fraudulent tax returns on behalf of 66 clients – all of whom were Johannesburg Metro Councillors – for the periods 2002 to 2004. The loss to SARS was almost R1.3 million. He was sentenced to 5 years direct imprisonment.

2. On 2 December 2014 Somnjalose Trading cc and Mr David Nyambi pleaded guilty to multiple charges of VAT Fraud and theft in the Nelspruit Regional Court. A service provider to the Mpumalanga Provincial Department of Education, they received payments from the Department for services rendered, but failed to pay VAT to SARS. Somnjalose Trading was sentenced to a total fine of R110 000, wholly suspended for a period of 3 years. Mr Nyambi was sentenced to a fine of R90 000, also wholly suspended for a period of 3 years.

Customs Interventions
In the period from 1 to 31 December 2014, SARS Customs and Enforcement teams have:

1. Prevented just over 22kg cocaine (valued at over R6.4 million), and over 23kg ephedrine / crystal methamphetamine (valued at over R7 million) from entering the country. In all cases, the drugs seized and the individuals involved were handed over to the SAPS for further action. The drugs were seized in a number of different interventions, and included:
a. 13.8kg crystal methamphetamine, valued at over R4.1 million, carried in the luggage of a male passenger arriving in Johannesburg from Mumbai.
b. 11kg cocaine, valued at over R1.7 million, carried by a male passenger transiting through Johannesburg from Sao Paulo to Pointe Noire (in the Republic of Congo). The drugs were concealed in tubes of silicone sealant in the passenger’s luggage.

c. 9.64kg cocaine, valued at almost R2.9 million, carried by a female passenger arriving in Johannesburg from Mumbai, hidden in false compartments in her luggage.d. 6kg cocaine, valued at over R1.7 million, carried by a male passenger transiting through Johannesburg from Sao Paulo to Kinshasa. The drugs were concealed in backpacks carried in his suitcase.e. 1.64kg cocaine, valued at over R470 000, carried by a male passenger transiting through Johannesburg from Sao Paulo to Lagos. The drugs were concealed in the soles of shoes carries in his suitcase.

f. 1.44kg cocaine, valued at R450 000, carried by a female passenger arriving in Durban from Sao Paulo. The drugs were found after Detector Dog “Jersey” reacted too her luggage.g. 1.14kg cocaine, valued at over R320 000, carried by a male passenger travelling from Sao Paulo to Johannesburg (having transited in Dubai). The drugs were concealed in toiletry bottles and roll on containers in his luggage.

2. Seized a number of other items coming into the country, including
a. 1332 Master Cases and 6173 Cartons (over 14.5 million individual cigarettes) of illicit cigarettes, valued at over R25.6 million. Of these,
i. 1150 Master Cases were seized at the Port of Durban in a joint operation with SAPS Crime Intelligence. They were concealed in a container arriving on a ship originating in Dubai.
ii. 101 Master Cases were seized at Beit Bridge border post concealed in a truck and trailer carrying wheat bran, crossing into South Africa from Zimbabwe
iii. 6100 cartons were handed over from the SANDF to the SARS team at Beit Bridge after operations along the border line with Zimbabwe
iv. 81 Master Cases were found in a concealed compartment in an “empty” truck crossing into South Africa at the Beit Bridge border post.
b. As previously reported, 54 packs of mining explosives, 150 detonators and 9 detonator cords (value at over R320 000), carried by a female bus passenger entering South Africa at Beit Bridge.
c. As previously reported, 5.2kg ivory, valued at over R16 000, concealed in the engine compartment of a bus crossing into South Africa from Zimbabwe at Beit Bridge
d. A parcel declared as a gift of “Peruvian Torch Cactus seeds, soil and growing chemicals”, in an incoming parcel at a King Shaka International Airport courier agency. It was established that the fully grown, harvested and dried cactus can be processed into a narcotic that acts as a hallucinogen. The parcel was seized for the Department of Agriculture. 
e. 1kg “magic mushrooms”, valued at R3000, in an incoming parcel at an OR Tambo International courier agency. They were found after SARS Detector Dogs “Chocky” and “Bruno” reacted to the parcel. 
3. Prevented a number of items from leaving the country, including:
a. 31 travellers cheques, with a value of over USD 20 000, in a courier parcel from South Africa to the Netherlands.
b. 25 blank Mozambican visas, in a courier parcel from South Africa to Kenya.
4. Over 454kg of khat, valued at over R305 000, was seized both entering (from Ethiopia) and leaving (destined for the UK, Netherlands, USA, Canada and Ethiopia) South Africa.

13 January 2015 – Response to recent media speculation ...

Pretoria, 13 January 2015 – The South African Revenue Service takes note of the article, ‘Pillay fights back’, published in one of the Sunday Newspapers of the 11 January 2015. SARS would like to place on record its serious concern with what appears to be the  ‘fighting’ of internal SARS matters through the media without following the proper processes that SARS has in place. This approach is wrought with problems, the most apparent being that the suspension process in question is still underway and subject to internal proceedings. Very worryingly, the response seen by some media had not been provided to SARS by Mr Pillay at the time of the published article.

SARS is mindful about the sensitivity and confidentiality of the process surrounding Mr Pillay and it is in the interest of all parties that the matter be dealt with fairly, honestly and swiftly. However, it is important to clarify some points raised in this Sunday newspaper article.

As indicated, we were perplexed to see what appeared to be excerpts from Mr Pillay’s official response to SARS appear in the media report. In fact, at Mr Pillay’s request, SARS has granted him an extension until 16 January 2015 to supply us with his formal response to his suspension notice (the initial deadline was 12 January 2015).

SARS remains disappointed and disturbed that certain media seemed to have received Mr Pillay’s ‘25 page response’ yet we had not.  In addition, the organisation is concerned that the media is being used to fight internal disciplinary processes. We stand by our view that all SARS employees, regardless of rank or seniority, must face the disciplinary process like any other employee if required. If indeed Mr Pillay’s response was provided to the media without sharing it with us, then this has seriously dented the trust and relationship between SARS and him. SARS is seeking further legal guidance and thereby reserving its right to law 

Moreover, SARS takes great exception to insinuations about a ‘clean-out’ of certain officials. These suggestions have no base and are simply untrue – it is irresponsible to make these sorts of claims. In fact, SARS is acutely aware of the gratitude that it owes officials (past and present) who helped transform SARS into the vital and efficient tool of democracy that it is today.

Furthermore, trust and integrity are cornerstones of SARS.  We have a responsibility to the organisation, our employees and taxpayers to ensure that all processes are followed and are fair, regardless of the outcome. As such, we will not respond to media enquiries about employee matters while internal processes are underway. It is simply irresponsible and not conducive to good employee relations.  Once our internal processes have been completed we will communicate the outcomes.

It is important to note that SARS is entrusted with a crucial mandate. The work we do in driving compliance and collecting revenue is inextricably linked to the capacity of the state to serve its citizens and to the success of our young democracy. In the midst of the current scenario, SARS has not lost sight of this mandate and commitment to the country. South Africans have our assurances that we remain single-minded in doing our bit to expedite our mandate.