EARTH Thailand

Map Ta Phut delays frustrate Japanese

Bangkok Post 15 July 2010 | Nareerat Wiriyapong

Japanese executives yesterday expressed frustration over further delays in resolving the Map Ta Phut environmental regulation issue, and also pressed the government to intervene with insurance firms to speed compensation to businesses affected by the May political riots.

The Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC) said it was disappointed to learn that it could be another two months before the government releases a final list of harmful activities that would be subject to intensive health and environmental impact assessments (HIA and EIA) and public hearings.

"Earlier we projected that the list would be announced shortly after the Anand [Panyarachun] panel finished its task, but suddenly the government came out and said it needed two more months to review the list. This causes frustration [among Japanese investors]," said Junichi Mizonoue, the president of JCC Bangkok.

"Generally speaking, I don't think Thailand can attract big new investments until all remaining issues related to Map Ta Phut become clear because all investors are so annoyed about the unclear regulations in Thailand," he added.

Yuji Kumanaru, minister plenipotentiary at the Japanese Embassy in Thailand, said there had been no progress on the Map Ta Phut issue.

The prospect of a further delay of two months for Thailand to establish rules and procedures will result in financial losses for the companies affected, he said at a luncheon hosted by the Thai-Japanese Association and the JCC.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told the gathering that his government was trying to ensure that the harmful activities list won't end up causing new problems.

"We need to be careful and not sweepingly endorse the list. It will take no longer than two months to conclude the harmful industries list and within three to four months, we will be able to solve all [remaining issues]," he said.

Industry Minister Chaiwuti Bannawat said private companies should focus for now on making sure their own health and environmental impact assessments are in order rather than on the final harmful industries list.

"Your activities may not fall into the list, but if you don't follow Section 67 of the 2007 Constitution, and if your activity has an impact [on communities nearby] you could be brought to the court," Mr Chaiwuti said.

Mr Kumanaru, meanwhile, also called on the government to help Japanese businesses negotiate with insurance companies to accept their damage claims for attacks during the May riots.

"Damages caused by acts of terrorists are not eligible for insurance coverage. This is not fair to us," he said.

Only a handful of large businesses have specific terrorism coverage. Some insurers have baulked at paying claims for damage caused by rioters and arsonists, in part because the government has branded their activities as terrorism.

Mr Abhisit said that if such cases were taken to court it would take a long time for Japanese companies to obtain compensation. In such a case, he said, the government would set up a fund to provide immediate financial help for affected foreign firms.

The premier also vowed to speed up investigations into casualties during the protests, in which one Japanese journalist was among those killed on April 10."It is important for our confidence that the government is able to secure the safety of lives and property of Japanese personnel," Mr Mizonoue said.