SBPAC vows transparency in face of Chana row

SBPAC vows transparency in face of Chana row

The Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) pledged to adhere to transparency and public participation in deciding the future of the controversial Chana industrial complex in Songkhla province.

"From now on, the decision-making process on the Chana project will be based on clear and detailed information," said Nanthaphong Suwannarat, director of civil development promotion and support of the SBPAC, during a seminar on the future of the project on Thursday.

He admitted that the decision-making process in the past was "problematic" and pledged to include critics and information from opposing groups in the future.

The forum was organised by the Thai Society of Environmental Journalists. It was attended by government officials, members of the media, representatives of non-governmental organisations and local villagers.

It followed a decision by the cabinet earlier this week to suspend all Chana project decision-making processes after locals started protesting in Bangkok on Dec 10. They are protesting against a plan to turn agricultural land in Chana district into an industrial zone.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon ordered the ad-hoc committee to visit Chana district in Songkhla. He also called for a provincial meeting to discuss the industrial zone plan.

Rungruang Ramanya, a member of Chana Rak Thin (Love Chana), said villagers will not accept the project.

"How can we accept it? The multi-billion baht industrial complex has yet to go through an environmental impact assessment," Mr Rungruang said. "So the government needs to set zero [terminate] the Chana project."

He said mistrust toward SBPAC started over a year ago when the local administration tried to revise its land-use ordinance by reclassifying an agricultural zone into an industrial one for the complex.

Phinyo Sarisutthi, a villager from Rayong province and member of a local civic group, said people in Chana should take Rayong's Map Ta Phut industrial estate project as a cautionary tale.

Mr Phinyo said Rayong now has a higher number of cancer patients due to the presence of an industrial complex that was built four decades ago.

Villagers 40 years ago were told the establishment of Map Ta Phut industrial estate would create more jobs for locals, but in reality, only about 5% of locals are employed to work there, mostly as security guards and janitors, Mr Phinyo said.

The majority of workers at the Map Ta Phut industrial estate are people who migrated from other parts of the country, he noted.

Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu, a senior research fellow with the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), questioned why there is such an aggressive push by the state to establish the Chana industrial complex.

"The rush to build the Chana industrial complex appears to be more about those investors' desperation to resell plots of land they had previously bought [for price speculation reasons]," Ms Saowaruj said.

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