The military regime's order No.9/2559 allowing certain infrastructure and development projects to be opened for bidding before an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study is carried out is illogical.
What is worse is the ruling military probably knows how hollow its rationale is, and they don't care.
Government figures and top state officials have rushed out to defend the National Council for Peace and Order's (NCPO) command allowing state agencies or enterprises to start engaging the private sector to undertake large-scale projects before the result of the EIA is known. The order covers such projects as those involving irrigation, transport, disaster prevention and housing.
Environmentalists and academics slammed the order, issued under the unchecked power of Section 44 of the interim charter, when it was made public last week. They argued the order is an attempt to bypass the EIA or environmental and health impact assessment (EHIA) process which is mandatory for all state-owned schemes.
In the rush to get large-scale projects off the ground, which might benefit the country's short-term economic growth, the military regime is denying people's rights to protect their natural resources and livelihoods, they argued.
The critics have a point. Why else would the law mandating an EIA and EHIA be in place if the process is dispensable? As the outcry grows louder, the government and its supporters in state agencies have formed a defence line.
The order does not omit or weaken the EIA or EHIA process, Natural Resources and Environment permanent secretary Kasemsun Chinavaso said last week. It only allows state agencies to start calling for bidding and preparing a project's financing in parallel with having its EIA done. It would be like starting the first step alongside the fifth one, instead of having to go from one step to another respectively.
He insisted the order would not have any negative impact on the EIA as state agencies are barred from signing any agreement with the private business until the EIA is approved. The order could expedite several projects which can't begin because their EIAs are still pending. Mr Kasemsun cited as an example one electric train project where the EIA took eight years to complete.
Is it a sensible explanation? Definitely not. The chain of logic behind the NCPO's order No.9 is flawed completely, from start to finish.
The regime and state officials argue it takes too long for an EIA or EHIA to be completed. If that is the case, why don't they tackle the problem right there? Find out why it has taken so long for an EIA or EHIA to be finished. Is it because there are too few companies doing the job? Too few qualified personnel? If these prove to be the obstacles, remove them. Allow more companies to compete. Train more people who can do environmental and health studies and give them the work.
Also, find out what an appropriate time should be for a proper assessment to be done. Then put the time limits which could vary according to different projects into law. These steps should be more sustainable, as they tackle the problems at the root cause and for the long run.
It makes no sense for authorities to assume the fast-track order would have no effect on the EIA and EHIA either. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the NCPO's order can speed up projects only on the presumption the EIA and EHIA would be approved.
In all other scenarios, the order would cause further delays and opportunity costs. Prudent companies may not want to engage in a project where the prospects are uncertain.
If the conditional bidding attracts only second-grade, reckless investors, it would be a huge loss of opportunity for the state. Worse, the fast-track order would trigger a bigger waste of time if the project's financing has been secured but the EIA is rejected. Everything will have to start over again.
In plain words, the NCPO's order No.9/2559 can only quicken projects when it assumes the EIA and EHIA will be approved as a rubber stamp. All other attempts to justify it are illogical.
But then again, there is a similar failed logic here as in past suggestions that people grow velvet beans instead of rice, shower less in the face of drought or refrain from making sparks to avoid wildfires.
As the military regime lingers on, the daily dose of illogicality is increasing and becomes more flagrant. If a fast-track solution is ever needed, it's to expedite the exit of one immodest man's rule to the more sensible one-man, one-vote.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.