EARTH Thailand

Hear people out on EEC

Bangkok Post 25 July 2019 | Editorial

As the state authorities responsible for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) boast of progress in the mega-development project, which spans Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong provinces, a group of local villagers who will be adversely affected by the flagship project are speaking out against it. Such opposition has become familiar.

According to the EEC Office, a full draft of the project's new town plan is scheduled to go before the EEC Policy Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, for final approval early next month.

Secretary-general of the EEC Office Kanit Sangsubhan said the Prayut-led committee will meet on Aug 5 to consider and approve the new town plan, which was drawn up by the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning.

Under the draft plan, endorsed by the EEC Policy Committee in April, commercial areas will make up 16% of the total land areas, up five percentage points, equivalent to 1.33 million rai. Meanwhile, the total area designated as industrial zones has been raised to 4.9% of the total area, or 5.23 million rai. However, areas earmarked as forest conservation zones have been reduced to only 10% of the total, or 830,000 rai.

The EEC Office said the areas designated as commercial and residential zones have to be increased in order to accommodate the population within the EEC, which is expected to hit 6.29 million by 2037.

Mr Kanit stressed that the new town plan has an academic basis and conforms with international best practices as well as Thailand's Town Planning Act.

He said the plan touches on transport, logistics and information technology infrastructure in order to ensure the EEC can host a variety of industries -- which means that the new plan also takes into account other factors, such as water management, waste treatment, as well as safety measures to prevent accidents.

"The new town plan will make investors more confident about investing in new production bases within the EEC," said Mr Kanit.

While the secretary-general can be proud of the progress, several groups comprised of local villagers who will be affected by the project have spoken out against the town plan draft, saying that it fails to address their concerns.

The villagers who have joined hands with the Friends of the East Network and EEC Watch are now calling on the prime minister to put the project on hold until their concerns are addressed.

Claims about the level of public participation made by the EEC Office, they say, should be treated with suspicion.

While the EEC Office has said more than 40 public hearings were held across three provinces to gauge public opinion on the new town plan, everyone knows these are more about form than substance.

Furthermore, the project was formulated when the country was controlled by a military regime -- with Gen Prayut invoking the all-powerful Section 44 clause in October 2017 to expedite the project's launch, effectively bypassing several important legal hurdles.

Without a doubt, the government and the prime minister have the people's best interests in mind in pushing for such an ambitious development project. That said, both are still obliged to respect the principle of public participation, which is a right enshrined in the charter.

There has been too many example of development projects pursued without taking into account public concerns. The EEC should be different. The government should be open to making compromises, and it should start by establishing a dialogue with its opponents.