EARTH Thailand

Abhisit 'clears the air' over Map Ta Phut impasse

Bangkok Post 15 September 2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says he has "cleared the air" over the Map Ta Phut debacle during a surprise visit to the four-party panel which is looking into the issue.

Mr Abhisit spoke with the panel chairman, former PM Anand Panyarachun, about the National Environment Board's reasons for shortening the list of harmful industrial activities.

He visited the panel yesterday at Ban Phitsanulok to discuss the shortening of the list from the 18 activities recommended by the Anand panel to 11 adopted by the NEB. The NEB is chaired by Mr Abhisit.

Mr Anand said afterwards that he was given just seven minutes' notice about Mr Abhisit's visit.

The Anand committee was upset by the NEB's slashing of its list while the prime minister has said the government had strong information to support the NEB's decision and was ready to explain the reasons to the public.

Mr Abhisit insisted after yesterday's meeting that the panel understood why its proposed list of harmful industrial activities had been shortened.

Companies conducting activities on the list are required to carry out public hearings, environmental and health impact assessments and submit the project for review by the independent body on health and the environment.

He said the NEB made assurances that the revised list would not benefit any particular party and he saw no need to review it.

Mr Abhisit said the NEB had, in fact, considered 14 harmful industrial activities. Two of them require a separate announcement as they are area-based while another involves the drilling for underground salt which is already a strictly prohibited activity.

However, the prime minister said the government's priority was not the list but a study into buffer zones and the level of toxic discharge absorption in local communities.

He said the four-party committee would work closely with government agencies on the matter and they were required to report work progress every two months.

Mr Abhisit said Korbsak Sabhavasu, his secretary-general, was coordinating with environment activists who plan to hold a rally against the list on Sept 30.

Mr Anand said yesterday the panel stood by its list of 18 harmful activities but it would not press on and would leave it to the government to decide whether to revise it.

"The list of harmful activities is over now. The government should learn by itself whether it deserved to review the list," he said.

Mr Anand said the four-party panel would have a meeting every two months, updating the progress on the pollution reduction scheme and city planning policy in Rayong.

The four-party panel yesterday also invited representatives from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to clarify the 11 harmful activities list.

Nisakorn Kositratna, deputy permanent secretary for natural resources and environment, assured the panel the revised list was thorough.

She said the challenge would be how the parties involved worked to deal with pollution problems in the province.

Meanwhile, the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) has expressed concerns over the dispute over the list between the state and activists which could put the investment climate "back to square one".

Jetro president Munenori Yamada said Japanese investors remained concerned as long as the Thai government and the NGOs could not reach a consensus.

"The suspended projects do not yet resume despite the court ruling. The NGOs' disapproval is a bad sign," Mr Yamada said.