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Battle against Phuket land grabbers moves to the hills

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PHUKET: The entire island should give its full support to the ongoing efforts by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to rid public beaches of encroachment in all its forms. The results, which so far have been nothing less than stunning, are sure to go a long way to restoring the island’s attractiveness to tourists, both foreign and domestic (story here).

Additionally, the imposition for the first semblance of real law enforcement is bound to drive scores of undesirables – again both Thai and foreign – away from the island and land a few where they deserve to be: in the cramped confines of Phuket Provincial Prison.

With a beachhead being secured, if not yet fully consolidated, the NCPO is now moving inland to take on an even more wily and better-armed breed of encroacher: the well-heeled investors who have conspired with corrupt officials to encroach on park land, mostly by not performing due diligence before acquiring tracts.

This is no doubt going to be a far more Herculean task than simply having a squad of soldiers armed with assault rifles turn up at the high-tide mark and order a bevy of beach masseuses to hit the road. Corruption involving the issuance and upgrade of land title documents is the ultimate Pandora’s Box, Thai style.

Not only is the problem nationwide in scale, but it dates back generations. Here in Phuket, many of the wealthiest families amassed fortunes during the tin-mining days, then parlayed these fortunes into mega-fortunes by failing to return the concession land to the state, as required by law.

Instead, they planted crops, typically coconuts, then laid formal claim that they were using the land for agricultural purposes: the first step in the well-oiled process through which they ultimately gained outright ownership – just in time for the tourism boom and skyrocketing land prices in coastal areas that were previously thought of as anything but “prime property”.

It is strangely appropriate that the Phuket Land Office itself sits on a parcel of land in the old government quarter of Phuket Town that is equidistant from, and just a stone’s throw away from, both Phuket Prison and Phuket Provincial Court. Similarly, it will be very interesting to see how many officials end up having to turn in the keys to their Benzes and BMWs to don the trademark uniform of the Phuket Prison inmate.

Many have compared the NCPO’s beach cleanup as similar to the one achieved by the tsunami. But even the tsunami surge reached only a few hundred meters inland anywhere on the island. For the NCPO’s anti-encroachment efforts to penetrate much further inland may take more power than the NCPO possesses. Our national parks, however, are a great and obvious place to start.

 

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