EARTH Thailand

Land lease protest starts to heat up

Bangkok Post 27 April 2017 | Apinya Wipatayotin

Court to determine whether bill is legal

Activists from the Network of Special Economic Zone Watch pledged Wednesday to petition the Administrative Court to interpret whether the eastern special economic development zone bill has been drafted correctly, if the government refuses to consider hosting a public hearing on it.

They made the move at a media briefing to protest against the cabinet's resolution on April 11 allowing foreign investors to lease government land in the eastern special economic development zone for up to 99 years.

Under to the current law, an initial land lease to foreigners is limited to 50 years, with a possible extension of another 49 years.

The critics said the government has never conducted a public hearing inviting all stakeholders. The resolution dated April 11 applies to state land in Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao provinces.The activists said it unfairly discriminated against poorer local people who want to use the land to make a living.

Penchome Sae-Tang, of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (Earth) and member of the group, said she would not have opposed the bill if a well-rounded study and the public hearing had been conducted as required under the constitution.

"We'll take the bill to the Administrative Court to help interpret whether it is written correctly. The government has still refused to comply with our demand to host a hearing," Ms Penchome said.

Decharut Sukkumnoed, lecturer of the Faculty of Economics of Kasetsart University, said the government should express its sincerity toward the public's concern about the 99-year-old land lease policy.

Section 77 of the constitution calls for hearings in cases where developments are likely to have widespread impacts.

Mr Decharut said it was quite clear the government was pushing for the bill to help encourage foreign investment.

The cabinet is trying to promote the eastern special economic development zone to draw international investment linking the country more closely to the Asean community and beyond.

According to the plan, the government will improve U-Tapao airport in Rayong by linking it with Don Mueang airport in Bangkok and Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan, together with a high-speed train project and a highway extension.

It also includes the expansion of industrial estates to support new economic industry such as the aviation and robotic industry.

About 70,000 rai is needed for the industrial estate expansion. Extending the land-rental period is one of the government's options for drawing more foreign investment.

The group was concerned the development will result in environmental problems.

The group also demanded the government reveal the bill's content under Section 59 that states people have a right to gain access to state information if it is not involved with security. It also called for the government to review the bill as it might violate people's rights.