Let's hear Chana truth
In a bid to find a solution to the Chana Industrial Estate controversy in Songkhla -- a key part of the Southern Economic Corridor which faces stiff opposition from local residents -- Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Monday called a meeting with all agencies involved in the project.
While it is understood that Mr Wissanu did so to tackle the differences between state agencies over the scheme -- which has been touted as a model for future industrial developments in Thailand -- he has yet to disclose the meeting's outcome to the public.
Sooner or later though, the government will have to make a decision.
Mr Wissanu's move followed a dispute between southern authorities and Deputy Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow who proposed suspending the scheme on Feb 22, citing a breach of regulations.
He came to the conclusion after visiting local communities in Chana district, where the industrial estate, that will involve at least 200 private investment projects, will be located.
The estate will cover more than 16,700 rai of land, alarming local residents, most of whom are small-scale fishermen, who feel the mega-project will negatively affect their health and the area's abundant marine resources.
The estate will also affect parts of Narathiwat's Sungai Kolok district, Yala's Betong district, as well as Pattani's Nong Chik district.
Opponents of the scheme are adamant that they don't want their area to become the next Map Ta Phut -- a similar industrial estate that is now dogged with chronic pollution issues. They are demanding the government conduct a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) using a neutral party, such as a local university, to determine what is best for the region.
Capt Thamanat also noted that the project did not involve the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), saying the council's input should be considered and incorporated in the project's planning.
This was, however, challenged by the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC), which claimed that as a completely private investment, the scheme doesn't need any input from the agency. Such a claim, made by a body known for its eagerness to push the scheme forward, is astounding.
The day after Capt Thamanat proposed suspending the scheme, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was quick to say the government would review the project. It won't be scrapped, he insisted.
Gen Prayut has always supported the scheme. His regime approved the proposal by the SBPAC on Jan 21, 2019, just as the cabinet was about to be dissolved ahead of the general election. The apparent rush drew heavy criticism and threw up valid questions about a lack of transparency and public participation in the project. But when Gen Prayut formed the Palang Pracharath-led coalition, the government reaffirmed it would get the go-ahead.
Indeed, the estate was riddled with irregularities from the start. First, Chana district's re-designation from a "green" agricultural zone into a "purple" industrial zone on town planning maps was done without public consultation. Then, anger erupted when it emerged the SBPAC unfairly pushed the project along by scheduling public consultations during Covid-19 lockdowns.
The government, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu in particular, must communicate better with the public, especially locals who will be affected by the estate. There is no need to fear loss of face if the decision is for the benefit of Chana residents.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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