Srettha denies ‘selling off’ the country
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Srettha denies ‘selling off’ the country

Changes meant to attract foreign property investment are not about ‘selling land’, says PM

(Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool)
(Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool)

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Tuesday dismissed claims by critics that a government proposal to raise the foreign ownership quota in condominiums and offer longer land leases is tantamount to “selling off the nation”.

“It is about long-term leases, not selling land. It has nothing to do with selling the nation,” the prime minister said.

The cabinet last week ordered a study into the proposal to raise the proportion of foreign ownership allowed in condominiums from 49% to 75% and to extend land lease terms for foreigners from 30-50 years to 99 years.

It was not on the agenda for Tuesday’s cabinet meeting. The Department of Lands is considering the pros and cons of the policy, said Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

Mr Anutin said the government needed to stimulate the economy and the proposed changes would not favour capitalists. The rights of Thai people would be protected while the economy would get a lift, he added.

A caretaker senator, Somchai Swangkarn, wrote on Facebook that the proposals could be considered a possible conflict of interest.

It would benefit property businesses connected to cabinet ministers, including Mr Srettha, who headed the developer Sansiri Plc before entering politics.

Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat also defended the proposal.

“If the government increases condo quotas for foreign buyers and extends the leasing period on land for foreigners, the territory of Thailand still remains intact,” he said on Tuesday.

Some have expressed concern about the impact of the changes on property prices, but Mr Julapun said the problem was not with prices, but rather people’s inability to access loans.

The current government has outlined several policies to stimulate investment, increase employment and establish Thailand as a global hub that can attract foreign tourists.

The government also wants to lure skilled foreigners to reside in the country, said Mr Julapun.

While the government proposes increasing the foreign ownership quota in condos to 75%, their voting rights would remain capped at 49%.

Local real estate executives have voiced their support for the proposal to extend land leases to 99 years, saying the change would attract more foreign investment.

Issara Boonyoung, honorary president of the Housing Business Association, said seven real estate organisations recently met with officials from the Department of Lands and other agencies to discuss changes that would encourage foreigners to purchase real estate.

He suggested new foreign ownership rules be applied selectively in areas popular with foreigners, such as Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya.

Sopon Pornchokchai, president of the Agency for Real Estate Affairs, said lease periods for foreigners were limited at 50 years in Cambodia, China, Myanmar and Vietnam, 30 years in Indonesia and 60 years in Singapore.

The proportion of foreign ownership of condominiums was capped at 30% in Vietnam, 49% in Indonesia and 50% in Malaysia, he said.

Mr Sopon suggested foreign buyers should be prohibited from selling purchased condominiums for three years, to deter speculation, he said.

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