New flak for foreign land ownership bill
The government is listening to every concern about the proposal to allow foreigners to hold land ownership of up to one rai for residential purposes, said Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam.
He was responding to criticism triggered by the cabinet's recent approval of the Interior Ministry's bill to alter the laws governing land ownership by foreigners, which is aimed at attracting foreign investment to fuel the economy.
Under the proposal, four specific groups of foreigners can apply to buy up to 1 rai of land on the condition they invest at least 40 million baht each for at least three years.
However, critics slammed the move, saying it would discriminate against locals. Some also accused the government of "selling off" the country to foreigners.
Mr Wissanu said foreign ownership of property has always been a controversial issue and the government is open to recommendations such as more restrictions involving the resale and purchase of adjacent plots to close any possible loopholes.
He said the bill is an upgrade of a ministerial regulation introduced in 2002. It is being reviewed by the Council of State, the government's legal arm, he said.
"Whenever the issue comes up, it stirs a debate. When it was raised during the Chatichai (Choonhavan) administration, it failed. The regulation was successfully pushed during the Thaksin (Shinawatra) administration, but there were few buyers.
"So we want to reduce the number of conditions to attract investors. However, it is yet to take effect and is still being examined by the Council of State," he said.
Asked if the government would back down if there was strong public resistance, Mr Wissanu said the government would deliberate on the issue.
Pakorn Nilprapunt, secretary-general of the Office of the Council of State, on Monday used his Facebook to clarify some details and reject criticism it would discriminate against locals.
He said limited ownership with some conditions attached including required investment is reasonable and it is unlikely to deprive Thais of land, which is more often caused by property hoarding by wealthy Thai landlords.
"We need to figure out how to introduce a law to better allocate land to narrow inequality. It is there in the charter, and it is something we should do," he said.
Mr Pakorn said claims of "selling off" the country arise whenever an election approaches or a bill giving land purchasing rights to foreigners is raised.
Meanwhile, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, leader of the Thai Civilized Party, on Monday asked the Office of Ombudsman to forward the bill to the Constitutional Court for a ruling. Political activists Jatuporn Prompan and Nitithorn Lamlua also lodged a petition demanding the bill be shelved and said they would ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate.