EARTH Thailand

More court battles loom over Map Ta Phut projects impasse

Bangkok Post 19 November 2009 | Vichaya Pitsuwan and Mongkol Bangprapa  

The People's Eastern Network is threatening further court battles over the Map Ta Phut dispute unless the Supreme Administrative Court stands by a lower court's injunction order.

In a statement yesterday, the network said it was preparing to submit its case to the Constitution Court if the Supreme Administrative Court rules in favour of the government and lifts the lower court's injunction.

The Administrative Court on Sept 29 ordered the suspension of operating permits for 76 industrial projects in the Map Ta Phut area in Rayong under Section 67 of the constitution covering health and environmental impacts.

The ruling prompted related state agencies and industrial heavyweights PTT and Siam Cement Group to appeal.

Suthi Atchasai, the network's leader, said the dispute involves not only public health and the environment but also the issue of constitutionality.

He said the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the parliament ombudsmen and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) are among agencies that have been asked by the network to scrutinise the government over whether it has complied with Section 67.

He also said the network will file more documents to ensure the Supreme Administrative Court has all the information it needs after the final hearing yesterday.

He expected the court to hand down a ruling early next year after it agreed to hear statements from four agencies as requested by the network.

The four are the NHRC, the National Economic and Social Advisory Council, a senate committee and the Ecological Rehabilitation Foundation.

They are required to submit to the court by tomorrow written statements which will be forwarded to the parties appealing against the injunction.

Mr Suthi said the network can always file an injunction against the operations of industries operating at Map Ta Phut if it loses this battle.

"If we have new information or if there is an accident or a death we can ask the court to suspend [industrial operations]. This will constitute a fact that the situation in Map Ta Phut is at a critical stage," he said.

Mr Suthi, who is also a member of the four-party panel set up to try to solve the problems at Map Ta Phut outside of court, said if the panel works efficiently, then further judicial support will not be necessary.

The panel holds its first meeting today.

Led by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, the panel is made up of representatives of the business sector, the government, local people and accredited experts.

Deputy permanent secretary for industry Kosol Jairungsee, a panel member, said the Industry Ministry will present the ministerial announcement on eight harmful industries that need to abide with Section 67.

"If the panel disagrees with our list and wants alterations, we will do so for the impasse to reach a win-win conclusion," Mr Kosol said.

He made his statement as he joined permanent secretary for industry Witoon Simachokdee to explain the Map Ta Phut situation to a Japanese diplomat.

The Japanese embassy in Thailand has voiced concerns the prolonged stalemate would diminish Japanese business confidence in the long run and asked if a similar fate might befall additional projects to the 76 affected so far.

"They worry that if Stop Global Warming Association chairman Srisuwan Janya's earlier threat to bring 181 projects nationwide to court really happens, then this will affect more Japanese projects," Mr Witoon said. He said many Japanese companies are in the supply chains for these projects.

Masato Otaka, a minister at the embassy in charge of economic affairs, said Japanese business remains committed to investment in Thailand even though the Map Ta Phut impasse has raised concerns among investors.

"We hope that the dispute will be solved in a good way. The prime minister is also aware of the importance of foreign investment to Thailand's economic development and is trying to create a good investment climate for investors so there is no reason for Japanese business to be unhappy here," he said.

He said the business sector is even more optimistic although the global economy has not yet recovered.