EARTH Thailand

PM pays heed to industrial impact fears

Bangkok Post 19 September 2009

Map Ta Phut residents single out 55 projects
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has vowed to look into the environmental impact of industrial projects in Rayong's Map Ta Phut area after getting first-hand information from locals.

Villagers from the area who have been affected by industrial pollution finally got to meet the premier at Government House yesterday, after organising a series of protests and dozens of petitions on the matter over the past year.

Mr Abhisit reaffirmed the locals' right to monitor the environmental and health impacts of industrial investment in Map Ta Phut.

The villagers were particularly concerned about 55 industrial projects whose environmental impact assessments have been endorsed and are waiting for construction and operating permits from relevant agencies.

Mr Abhisit said he could not say whether or not all of the 55 projects should be put on hold as the developments should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

He also said project developers are obliged by the law to follow Article 67 of the constitution which states that any investment projects that could cause environmental and health impacts must be put before a public hearing.

The prime minister said he would take into consideration the villagers' proposal to designate Map Ta Phut as a special local administration area. Locals say the move would facilitate the local organisation's tackling of pollution problems.

"There are so many agencies working on pollution problems in Map Ta Phut. Poor integration between these relevant agencies might have disrupted the effort to solve the pollution problem there," he said.

Mr Abhisit urged the villagers to switch from holding mass rallies about the problem to holding talks with relevant agencies where they could exchange information with officials.

"Demonstrations lead to nothing. What we should do is discussing the matter on the table," he said.

Sutthi Atchasai, a leader of the Eastern People's Network, said he was satisfied with the meeting's outcome as Mr Abhisit had showed sincerity in wanting to solve the long-lasting problem.

The Industry Ministry's representative, meanwhile, said authorities would go ahead with issuing permits for projects that have already passed environmental impact assessments.

The approval of permits was legal according to the Council of State's decision as guidelines to accommodate Article 67 of the constitution have yet to be drawn up, said Sorayud Petchtrakul, an adviser to the industry minister, who was at the meeting.

"For the approved permits, the prime minister said the public has the right to seek judicial support if they disagree with the government bodies' operations. We do not have the authority to revoke permits because investors were doing everything in accordance with existing laws. If we revoke, investors will sue us," Mr Sorayud said.

The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand and the Industrial Works Department are responsible for approving operating permits for factories.

"The prime minister does not want to see a halt in investment, so we are going ahead with the permits.

"However, public opinion on the granting of permits is welcome," he said.