EARTH Thailand

PM queries damage estimates

Bangkok Post 22 December 2009  

Court to decide fate of Map Ta Phut projects

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has cast doubt on the accuracy of an Industry Ministry estimate of the fiscal damage caused by the suspension of 65 industrial projects at Map Ta Phut.

Mr Abhisit yesterday said the figure seemed way too high.

The cabinet is today compiling information to support an application to the Supreme Administrative Court to allow some of the 65 suspended projects to go ahead to ease the impact on their operators.

Mr Abhisit was responding to permanent secretary for industry Witoon Simachokdee who said on Saturday the ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court to halt the projects would cost the industrial sector 600 billion baht in damages.

Mr Abhisit questioned the estimate.

"The figure might be calculated without taking into account the fact that several projects would not be scrapped, but only delayed," he said.

The prime minister warned people against using exaggerated damage figures to pressure the court or the government to end the Map Ta Phut impasse.

"This problem will be solved only if we talk about fact."

He also urged all parties to abide by the Supreme Administrative Court's order to suspend 65 projects in the Map Ta Phut area.

However, the government would look into the detail of some of those projects hardest hit by the court's injunction and find ways to ask it to relax the suspension order. These include projects that have already begun operations or are under construction.

"The court will have the final decision on whether these projects should proceed or not," Mr Abhisit said. "The government can only compile information to submit for the court's consideration."

The Industry Ministry said there were 25 projects that should be able to move forward. The ministry will table the project list for the cabinet's consideration today. Mr Abhisit was optimistic the Map Ta Phut deadlock would be eased after the four-party panel, chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, came up with clear regulations under Section 67 of the constitution.

They are the draft regulation on a health impact assessment study, the public hearing procedures and the list of harmful industrial projects required to conduct health impact assessments.

Buntoon Srethasirote, the panel's spokesman, yesterday said the panel had nearly finished the drafting of the regulations on health impact assessments and public hearing procedures.

The two regulations, to be announced in a form of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's regulations, would be forwarded to the National Environment Board for scrutiny on Thursday.

If the board, chaired by the prime minister, passes the regulations, they would be tabled for cabinet's endorsement next Tuesday, he said.

Once approved, operators of the 65 suspended projects could follow the regulations in order to seek the court's delisting of their projects from the suspension list.

The Anand panel also set up a subcommittee, led by environmental expert Thongchai Panswad, to draft criteria for activities which are required to conduct both health and environmental impact assessments.

The panel initially put 19 projects on the list, including activities in the so-called sensitive areas of 1A watershed area, national parks, wetlands of international importance or Ramsar sites, historical sites and pollution control zones.

Projects to be required to carry out both health and environmental impact assessments include dams, nuclear power plants, petrochemical plants, golf courses, airports, power plants, and deep sea ports.

"We need to listen to opinions from experts related to 19 severe activities and the public's opinion, which will take time," Mr Thongchai said.