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Thursday, March 15, 2012
Ombudsman barking up the wrong tree
Although an increasing number of foreigners now own land in Thailand through nominees or their Thai spouses, the ombudsman's claim that foreigners now own one-third of the country is simply just not credible.
And if the truth be told, foreign ownership of land is a lesser threat than the non-stop illegal land grabs by influential figures that have depleted our fast declining forest cover.
Ombudsman Siracha Charoenpanij’s claim that a third of the land in Thailand is now owned by foreigners by means of exploitation of loopholes in the land ownership law is simply too good or too bad to be true.
Citing an unspecified academic study, the ombudsman said that more than 90 per cent of the coastal land at Rayong’s Ban Phe beach now has foreign ownership, whereas in Pattaya and Hua Hin about 30 per cent of the land there belongs to foreigners.
The study is doubtful at best and Mr Siracha should not have quoted it in the first place without cross-checking the facts or the credibility of the academic or educational institute which did the study.
One-third of the land amounts to some 100 million rai, given the total land mass of the country which is about 319 million rai. It is simply not believable that foreigners or foreign companies could acquire such a huge amount of land. Any man with a pinch of commonsense or a modicum of wisdom will immediately find this study highly incredible and agree that it should not be used as a reference.
But it appears that Mr Siracha was convinced by the study. He said the Office of the Ombudsman would propose a bill to prevent nominees holding property within two weeks.
Despite the excessively inflated figure of land supposedly in foreign hands, about 100 million rai, as stated by the study, there is a grain of truth in that some foreigners have resorted to proxy ownership to evade the land law.
It is true that many farang men have given money to their Thai women to buy land and then to build a house on it. This practice is widespread in several Isan provinces where some communities are literally known as foreign-in-laws villages for the high number of cross-cultural marriages. It is also true that some foreigners who have obtained permanent residency in Thailand have bought up almost all the units in some condominium buildings, in Pattaya, for instance.
But it is simply not possible that the actual level of foreign land ownership is anywhere close to the figure claimed by this unspecified study. Even one-tenth of the figure postulated would still be unrealistically high.
Is foreign land ownership really such a security threat that Mr Siracha feels justified in introducing a new law to plug the loopholes, especially regarding proxy landownership. I don’t think so.
The real threat, the real land ownership problem, and one which is of greater and more urgent concern is the illegal land grab by those influential people, including politicians, exploiting the poor to poach the forests, then occupying the land and turning it into plantations, farms or resorts.
The other real problem is that far too much land is owned by only a few dozen families, while many people do not have even a small piece of land on which build a hut and put a roof over their head to protect them from the rain and the sunshine.
Mr Siracha is simply barking up the wrong tree!
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