EARTH Thailand

Map Ta Phut panel wins wide support

Bangkok Post 13 November 2009 | Vichaya Pitsuwan and Mongkol Bangprapa  

Most of those affected by the environmental problems at the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate are confident the government's latest initiative to resolve the impasse will result in a breakthrough.

With lawsuits pending, projects put on hold and villagers threatening more protests, the cabinet this week agreed to former prime minister Anand Panyarachun heading up a four-party penal made up of representatives of the business sector, government, villagers and accredited experts to seek a solution to the area's problems.

"The committee which will consist of representatives of all stakeholders [in the issue] means agreeable solutions for villagers and industrialists to live together will be reached," said Payungsak Chartsutthipol, vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).

"It means all stakeholders are now standing on a single stage and joining hands for a solution, and this shows that we are moving closer to ending the impasse."

The leader of the Eastern People's Network, Suthi Atchasai, agreed with the stance of the business sector, saying the joint committee was open to all concerned, including villagers and activists, to air their demands.

"Mr Anand is a respected figure who I believe will not take sides," said Mr Suthi, a key adviser to Map Ta Phut villagers in bringing 76 projects in Map Ta Phut to court.

"The committee's establishment shows the government is attempting to fix the problem. This is what the people of Rayong want to see. They will be happy and accept the committee's decisions."

Mr Suthi and three other village representatives will sit on the panel.

However, excluded from the panel is the Stop Global Warming Association (SGWA) chairman Srisuwan Janya, who doubts if it will serve the demands of Rayong people.

The SGWA has threatened to file petitions to halt 181 investment projects around the country unless they follow the environmental guidelines in Section 67 of the constitution.

Representatives from the business sector include Mr Payungsak, Chainoi Puankosoom, president of PTT Aromatics and Refining, and Somchai Wangwatanapanich, managing director of Rayong Olefins.

On the government side will be Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu, the permanent secretary of health and the Industry Ministry's deputy permanent secretary.

Four experts in the fields of health and environment issues will also be selected. The panel is set to meet informally today to be given the details of their task and formulate plans to start work after the cabinet endorses the members next week.

SGWA chairman Srisuwan said a legal dispute between the operators of 76 suspended industrial projects and ecological and civil activists could end in a win-win situation if the Supreme Administrative Court extended the hearing into the projects, giving the developers more time to fix any problems.

Mr Srisuwan expressed optimism yesterday after 11 representatives of the projects and officials from the Industry and Public Health ministries testified at the second hearing into the projects.

The court called for a third hearing next Wednesday.

Mr Srisuwan said if the court needed time to consider the issues, and if the project owners took the opportunity to study the possible health impacts of their factories and ways to curb them - as well as hold public hearings on the projects - they could bring the findings to the court and seek to lift the suspensions on their permits.

"That would be a good way out for the two sides," Mr Srisuwan said.

The SGWA earlier joined community activists to file a complaint with the court after they claimed the 76 projects planned for the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong province violated Section 67 of the constitution which requires certain projects to undergo public hearings and independent studies.