EARTH Thailand

Fixing NCPO legacy of conflict, pollution

OPINION | Bangkok Post 03 January 2019 | Penchom Tang

The military regime's policy to promote industrial development with the use of the drastic Section 44, which bypasses regular laws and regulations, has won a thumbs-up from investors while also intensifying pollution and local conflicts.

The waste management policy is a prime example. The regime made a noteworthy start by placing waste on the national priority list but the policy has turned into a failure when put into practice. In fact, we saw local conflicts flare up in several areas.

A case in point is the plan to set up waste power plants, some of which face strong opposition from locals. This is largely because the waste is not generated by the communities whose areas are designated as plant sites. Moreover, some areas are not appropriate for such plants in terms of their topography.

The problem gets worse as the regime resorts to special powers that overwrite laws and regulations, including town planning to enable operators to accelerate the projects; while vital procedures like environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies are exempt for plants with less than 10-megawatt capacity.

The regime also ignores other aspects that would seem to benefit investors and operators at the expense of local communities. In short, it attaches great importance to investment promotion, catering to investors' demands, while lacking efficient mechanisms in tackling pollution.

It should be noted that the country has imported conventional and electronic waste in accordance with some free-trade area agreements that this and past governments made with other countries.

Such agreements force the country to open its doors not only to hazardous chemical and industrial waste, but some types of household waste including plastic that puts the environment at risk. More waste has been able to get into Thailand since China slapped a ban on such refuse.

This rubbish has been distributed to waste-recycling plants, which in effect are known as a pollution source, including waste water, excessive noise, dust, and filthy solid waste; while several lack the necessary infrastructure or management measures to minimise pollution.

At the same time, leftover waste from these is are buried in the plant compound -- the practice that is unjustifiably allowed by the current laws -- or scattered outside. Without proper management, hazardous waste leftovers could contaminate the soil and underground water.

Many people have warned that a series of raids on electronic waste processing plants in recent months were just done for show, without any effect. But there has been significant change since the issue faded from public attention.

Although the regime said it would put in place measures to ban hazardous and plastic waste, there are questions about its effectiveness and efficiency.

We have no details about the banned items, not to mention the fact that kickbacks make smuggling possible. We have to keep a close watch.

We have a draft law on electronic waste management that is long overdue. It has been delayed because some operators do not want it to take effect. More importantly, measures to manage electronic waste as stipulated in the draft appear weak.

It's evident that under the military regime, there is no chance we will get laws that effectively protect public health and the environment.

Even the new environmental protection law issued by the coup-installed National Legislative Assembly fails to reflect the need for amendments to the original act. It all looks very similar.

In fact, there is much talk about law reform, in particular the laws involved with health and environmental protection, but little of substance has occurred to date. A few laws that have been put in place are flawed as the regime is eagerly promoting industrial investment and mega-projects to the point where it fails to balance environmental protection and labour welfare.

We must pin our hope on political parties that are vying for administrative power after the election. They should correct the problems left by the regime and ensure a balance between industrial development, quality of life, and the environment.

WRITER: Penchom Tang is the director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand. The article is an adaptation of an interview published by the Isra News Agency.