EARTH Thailand

EEC bill sails through first NLA reading but experts worry about environmental and social impacts


THE EASTERN Economic Corridor (EEC) bill passed the first reading on Thursday in the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) |despite concerns of academics |and citizen activists over the downsides from future projects, including environmental impact, corruption, and a lack of public participation.

Thursday’s debate ended with a landslide vote of 175 in favour of the bill. It was the first major legislative step to push forward the government’s mega-projects aimed at kick-starting industrial development in the three targeted provinces in the Eastern Region: Chon Buri, Rayong, and Chachoengsao.

Thirty standing committee members will be appointed to review the bill within 60 days before it comes to the NLA for the second reading.

But not everyone is celebrating.

Silpakorn University lecturer Somnuck Jongmeewasin said yesterday that the ease with which the bill was passed by assembly members, tasked with making decisions in the country’s interest, was worrying. If this draft bill were to become a law without major revisions, its many flaws would cause serious negative impacts on local communities and the country.

“My main concern about this bill is that future environmental impact assessments [EIA] of projects within the EEC will be condensed to speed up project consideration. There would be only 120 days to consider the environmental impact report on the project,” Somnuck said.

“This will lead to a significant reduction in the standard of environmental impact prevention, and in the end those most affected will be the local people.”

Accountability would be an issue, he said, with project consideration and management within EEC being the direct responsibility of the EEC secretary-general. And consultation is also a problem, with local people largely ignored and excluded from a role in approval, oversight, and management procedures.

Taken together, these consultation and management issues will make corruption easier.

“It is a serious issue for me that the views of local people are being overlooked from the very start for the EEC. Opponents have not had a chance to voice their concerns during public hearings on this bill. Needless to say, if local people are invited to develop their home together with the state the outcome would be better.”

It has been reported that some NLA members had raised concerns over the environmental impact of the EEC at Thursday’s meeting, and were worried about the reclamation of land from the sea for industrial development.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam clarified that the bill does not appoint the ECC secretary-general as the lone authority overseeing project approval and management. The bill also does not stipulate that all three provinces, in their entirety, would be designated special economic zones, said Wissanu. He said the public need not be concerned.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak told NLA members that the underlying principle behind the EEC bill is to use special economic zoning as the engine to drive the next major round of economic development arising from direct foreign investment in Chon Buri, Rayong, and Chachoengsao – the area of greatest economic potential in the country.

“With the EEC, we will change the economic structure of the country,” Somkid said. “And let us bring in high technology to Thailand, which aligns with the national development strategy.

“Therefore, this bill will be a master plan for our new economic prosperity and to boost the competitiveness of our country.”

Somnuck said he is unable to buy into the beautiful picture of prosperity being painted by the government, while ignoring the social, environmental, and economic costs.

He said there is no proof that the EEC would result in an economic leap forward for Thailand.

“There is no guarantee that with the EEC we shall successfully boost our gross domestic product and tackle the economic disparity. If we fail, all the investment will be for nothing and the local people will pay a heavy price,” he warned.