Prison labour hired to clean Bangkok's drains

Prison labour hired to clean Bangkok's drains

Prisoners clean sewers in Saphan Kwai disrict, Bangkok, to improve flood drainage, prior to the arrival of Covid-19. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Prisoners clean sewers in Saphan Kwai disrict, Bangkok, to improve flood drainage, prior to the arrival of Covid-19. (Bangkok Post file photo)

City Hall has approved a Department of Corrections proposal to use prison labour to clean the sewers throughout Bangkok and improve flood drainage, starting on July 1.

Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt and heads of the city drainage department approved the plan at a meeting with Department of Corrections chief Aryut Sinthopphan.

It was agreed the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration would hire the Department of Corrections to unclog sewers, using prisoners with good behaviour records, starting on July 1.

The hiring of prisoners to do the work is provided for in a ministerial regulation issued in 2020 on supplies and procurement methods that the government must promote or support. Such hiring need not enter the e-bidding process.

Previously, the city administration could not hire the department to do the work due to conditions set under the procurement law in 2017.

Use of prisoners must take into consideration human rights and they must volunteer, receive wages, safety equipment and welfare benefits.

Even so, prior to the Covid pandemic prisoners were often seen cleaning drains around the city. 

The city’s sewers extend over more than 6,500 kilometres, of which about 2,000km is under the responsibility of the BMA's department of drainage and sewerage. District offices are in charge of the remaining 4,500km of pipes.

In fiscal 2022, the BMA has budgeted 5 billion baht for cleaning 500km of sewer lines over four months.

The Bangkok governor set a target to clean 100km of sewers right away. He has ordered all district offices to survey areas vulnerable to flooding so work would begin immediately.

Mr Aryut said the use of well-behaved prisoners for the work was in line with department policy. The department has given more emphasis to human rights and inmates would have to volunteer for the work.

Food and drinks would be provided, in addition to injury cover. The department would give 70% of the profits from the work to the prisoners, who could keep the money for use when they are released back into society, he said.

A total of 1,000 prisoners from 10 prisons would be assigned to the work. All would be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and be given antigen tests before leaving the prison. They would not be allowed to meet relatives or visit markets or other public places while working.

Asked whether City Hall could hire the department to do all sewer cleaning in the future, Mr Chadchart said suitability and quality of the work would have to be considered first.  

He had received complaints that private firms employed to clean the drains were not as thorough as prisoners employed to do the work.

City officials would take measurements of the amount of sediment left in the pipes, he said.

Tuesday's agreement follows an instruction by Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin that the Department of Corrections write to the new Bangkok governor and seek his permission to use convicts to clean out sewers and reduce the risk of flooding in the capital.

Mr Somsak said the previous governor, Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang, had refused permission for convicts to do the work.

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