EARTH Thailand

Govt strictly follows Map Ta Phut recommendation

The Nation 20 November 2009 | Pongphon Sarnsamak, Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul 

The government yesterday decided to withdraw draft amendments to Environment Protection Act that comply with the Constitution's Article 67 (2) as recommended by the four-party panel, which is promising to end the Map Ta Phut controversy within five months.

Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, who is chairing this panel, has promised to take no more than four or five months to solve the problems, particularly the issues surrounding the 76 suspended industrial projects.

"The committee will not point to who is right or wrong, but will instead focus on find facts and exchanging opinions. The idea is to co-exist and not find winners or losers," Anand said.

Though the panel cannot influence the administrative court's injunction, measures to help the 76 projects are expected to come up within four or five weeks. The panel will also find ways to mitigate the impact of 200 projects that may face environmental lawsuits.

"If the government does not comply with the resolutions proposed by this panel, it must take all the responsibilities on it own," Anand said at the press conference.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday promised that the government would listen more to other peoples' opinions before it takes any legal moves. Before making a move on the 76 projects, the government will also wait for the Supreme Administration Court's ruling on the appeal against the lower court's injunction.

The draft, before it was submitted to the Parliament, had failed to win civil society's approval, especially with regard to the way members of the independent environmental body would be appointed or removed by the Natural Resources and Environment Minister.

Meanwhile the National Health Commission expert Detcharat Sukkhamnerd, a member of the joint committee, insisted that the draft withdrawal would not delay the 76 projects and that the private sector was satisfied by the panel's moves.

Vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, Payungsak Chartsutipol, also a member of the panel, said the first meeting at Ban Phitsanulok was peaceful because all parties wanted the same outcome - solving the environmental problems and easing conflicts between industries and local communities. All parties want to ensure that the laws and regulations are applied to all industrial plants nationwide and meet international standards.

"What the private sector is most concerned about is the 76 projects, and the committee has agreed to seek solutions for two scenarios – if the projects are suspended and if they are allowed to continue," he said.

The committee agreed to hold the meeting twice a week and invite environmental law specialists to join. Members would also visit Map Ta Phut on December 5 and 6 to seek more information.

At the next meeting, the committee is set to revise the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's amendments to the ministerial regulations that would result in environmental impact and health impact assessments.

Anand said the committee was empowered to seek information, including data on illnesses, from relevant agencies regarding Map Ta Phut. Once the resolutions have been completed, the committee will submit them to the government, which will then decide how to proceed.

The former PM has also vowed to revise or improve any government regulations or announcements related to environmental issues for a long-term solution.

Detcharat said the draft should be withdrawn because it was not approved by the civil society. He also said he felt positive toward the panel and believed that it would find the way out for the chronic disputes in the Map Ta Phut area.