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Opinion: Gov Chamroen bids farewell

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada has been leading our island for a year. He is now leaving us to take up his new position as the governor of Nakhon Sri Thammarat.

Here is his last letter to Phuketians.

It has been a year since I took up the position of governor in my hometown. It has been a great year for me, and I have received immense support from both government and private sectors. I am thankful to everyone, as I could not have done it by myself.

If I have upset anyone during my tenure, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I apologize for that. However, please understand that everything I did was for the benefit of the people.

I have been back and forth to and from Phuket for several years. I started my career as a government officer here and also served as the vice governor from 2012-2014, before coming back to assume the position of governor last year.

One of my proudest achievements has been to return the beaches of Phuket back to the local people. This was also one of the toughest tasks I have had to deal with. Some of the beaches have been returned completely to their natural state, whereas at others we allowed some local vendors to earn a living. The prime objective here was to ensure that Phuketians got the maximum benefit out of it.

I trust the people of Phuket to continue following the 10 per cent beach rule. There are some pending beach matters that I cannot tend to in the few days I have left, so I will leave those for the new governor’s attention.

The beach clearance was a huge accomplishment. I was working against many people, especially those whose revenues were affected by it. Some people are not satisfied with what we have accomplished, while others don’t think it’s that big a deal. Please be proud of the beautiful beaches you now have – go out to see the beauty of Phuket and be proud, like I am.

SMART CITY

Another important project we initiated is the Phuket Smart City project. This will help make the economy stronger and ensure a bright future for the island. The innovation park at Saphan Hin is already operational. This is a platform for the new generation to learn about technology and utilize it for their benefit.

We connected with many other cities to gain knowledge about smart cities and pushed very hard to make this project a reality. We have just started, whereas other cities are far ahead of us. However, it’s never too late to start, and in another year or two, we’ll be able to see worldwide, real-time footage of Patong Beach via CCTV. It’s a great concept to merge smart cities and tourism.

CCTV CAMERAS

We plan to install CCTV cameras at the Tah Chat Chai checkpoint, so that we can scan every single car passing through there. The next step will be to scan people’s faces and install more CCTVs throughout the island, especially at the piers.

STARTUP THAILAND

The plans for Startup Thailand have been finalized and presented to the central government. The project will cost about 4.2 million baht, and I believe in the PM for getting it approved.

LIGHT RAIL

Conceptually, the project is ready. I strongly believe that it will become a reality with the support of the central government. Safety has always been our first priority, so we have revised the plan to ensure that it is so. Even though it costs billions of baht to add more safety features, we cannot afford to be cheap. If we can’t get the best outcome, it’s better not to do it at all.

NEW HIGHWAY

This will be Phuket’s premium thoroughfare, and I am happy to have got the ball rolling on it. I wanted the designers to come up with a safe and dignified road. This will be a signature Phuket road, so if you come to Phuket, you will necessarily travel along part or all of its 22km. All the wires will be buried underground. It will cost up to 20 billion baht, including land expropriation.

ILLEGAL TAXIS

Four years ago, this was a huge issue on the island and nobody would even talk about it. I pushed very hard to get rid of them and took the initiative to solve the issue. We managed to get more than 5,000 drivers legally registered in the system.

PROVINCIAL HALL

The Phuket Provincial Hall building was constructed in 1913. We built a new reinforced concrete structure and I was fortunate enough to have a chance to work there as the 46th governor of Phuket. This is the first reinforced concrete structure in Thailand. Some people protested against the construction of a new Provincial Hall, as the building is more than 100 years old. However, we needed a new and more suitable building and the new hall serves that purpose.

SEA GYPSIES

We have been trying our best to resolve the land dispute between sea gypsies and land developers, and have escalated the issue to the relevant departments to take care of the locals and see what is best for them. It is also important to provide them with a means of earning a living by means other than fishing, so they can lead a good, healthy life. I have done my job, and now the rest depends on the central government and the courts.

In conclusion, I can say that I have done everything in my power to push projects, expand sister cities, and anything else I could do for the benefit of Phuket. When things were out of my power, I asked the central government to take charge.

The truth is, all these mega projects costing hundreds of millions, are out of my control. Everything gets decided in Bangkok, but as the governor, I had to take the blame. I am thankful to everyone who registered their concerns on delayed projects, as it is their voices that helped speed things up.

I reported the progress of all our projects, as well as plans for future projects, to the Prime Minister when he visited the island on September 16. I had nothing to lose, so I took the one shot I had. I wanted to make my voice heard in front of the PM and all the ministers.

All the provincial plans are in place and I believe the new governor will carry on the work very well. He is an honest and capable man. I speak from my heart when I say that I am worried about the facilities here in Phuket.

I would like to see Phuketians, whether they were born here or have moved here for work, love Phuket and take good care of the island. I also hope to see good cooperation between the government and private sectors, to help the new governor move Phuket forward.

I cannot be here forever. It is the government’s decision to move officers where they see fit. I do not mind working anywhere, as everything I do is intended for the benefit of my country. If anyone visits Nakhon Sri Thammarat, you are welcome to come see me in my office there.

— Chutharat Plerin

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Opinion

PM takes over Thailand’s vaccine roll out. Public Health Minister found under bus – OPINION

Tim Newton

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OPINION

I went to register my name at a local private hospital in Phuket last Saturday for a place in the Covid vaccine queue. It was at the Bangkok Hospital Phuket. The first response from the reception area after the customary welcoming wai was “do you have insurance?”

I said yes, but that was not relevant to why I was here. I explained that I wanted to put my name on their Covid vaccine register as a former patient and enquire as to when they might expect to get deliveries of a vaccine.

The answer was clear. “I don’t know, nobody knows”. And, as far as we currently understand, that answer was correct.

For foreigners in Thailand, unless they happen to work for companies with “connections” or perhaps a public service that was earmarked in the first roll out of vaccines, the vast majority are doing more damage from scratching their heads at the moment.

We’ve contacted the Provincial Phuket Office in Phuket, and been told the same thing. Or “register at your hospital”.

The Thaiger has published numerous articles about the apparent vacillation of the government in regards to allowing private companies and hospitals to acquire their own stash of vaccines. First they could, then they couldn’t, then it was a “misunderstanding”, and then they could again, about 2 weeks ago.

But not ONE private hospital in Thailand currently has access to its own stocks of an approved Covid 19 vaccine. Not even unapproved vaccines, as far as we can tell. The Thai government are still putting up paperwork and red tape barriers preventing any private solutions to the country’s vaccine roll out.

Now I use the term “roll out” carefully. Because there hasn’t been a lot of rolling. There’s no doubt once the vaccines arrive on site there are plenty of front line doctors and nurses, and local organisers, who can efficiently and diligently administer the doses. That’s happened twice in Phuket and has now resulted in some 70,000 local people vaccinated. It’s happened in other places as well. But there’s certainly been no “military” precision (which you’d think these guys would be good at).

Somewhere between a current shortage of available vaccines, generally, and the Thai government being forced to sign off on any private orders, there has been no movement on the “private vaccine” front.

Dr Suwadee Puntpanich, a director at the Thonburi Hospital Group, told the Thai Enquirer that it’s currently “impossible for the private sector to bring in vaccines due to the government’s inaction”.

“We have sent numerous applications for vaccines to the Ministry of Public Health, to the minister, to the permanent secretary and have received no response”.

Given that the private medical sector would have contacts to negotiate and import drugs from international pharmaceutical companies, you’d think they’d be the government’s first phone call. But no. The government have established their own supply chains, dragging out the process until now we this third wave in Thailand and a vaccine roll out way behind peer nations and most of the rest of the world.

Last night the Thai PM decided to take control of the Kingdom’s vaccine roll out.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed to designate PM Prayut as the chief authority with responsibility for all decisions related to the pandemic. He will have sole responsibility for the country’s Communicable Disease Act, the Immigration Act, National Health Security Act, and the Medical Equipment Act, as well as several others. Critically, he will now be responsible for the procurement and distribution of vaccines, essential to combatting the outbreak in Thailand.

There has been some quite public friction between the PM and his outspoken Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in recent weeks. This decision to take over the decision making in Thailand’s public health sphere is the equivalent to throwing his Bumjaithai party political partner under the bus.

Last week there was loud calls from opposition parties and social media for the resignation of the public health minister. Everything, from the shortage of hospital beds, the lack of vaccines, the decision to let Songkran go ahead, largely unfettered, and a slow reaction to the current outbreak have all fallen on the desk of Anutin.

The PM’s taking over of decision-making for Thailand’s public health at the moment may be an indication of strong, determined leadership. It’s also risky with Anutin pulling the strings on a rump of MPs that secured the PM his majority in the lower house following the 2019 general election.

A petition hosted on Change.org, demanding the resignation of Public Health Minister Anutin, has surpassed an initial target of 200,000 signatures. The target has now been increased to 300,000. 211,600 signatures have already been collected.

Also, as of this morning, the requests for signed paperwork from Thailand’s private hospital sector have remained unsigned.

 

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Tourism

Thailand’s 3rd wave wreaks havoc on the Tourism Restart Plan – where are we now?

Thaiger

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PHOTO: Empty beaches of Hua Hin - AJ Wood

OPINION by Andrew J Wood

Thailand Ministers ponder the next steps to re-start it’s massive tourism industry, initially set for July 1, 2021 in Phuket. The plan may need to be overhauled as Phuket struggles to immunise the whole island in the wake of the third wave of hotspots. Phuket, prior to the third wave had already secured more than 100,000 doses and planned to receive an additional 930,000 doses by June.

This would be enough for 70% of the population – the target needed to achieve herd immunity. The spike in Covid-19 cases has interrupted this plan, as vaccines must also be allocated to other provinces urgently to help fight the latest outbreaks.

Not deterred, the Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn said he plans to meet next week with all relevant agencies to discuss the reopening plan, previously set for July this year. Eighteen provinces have now been declared red zones, with a partial lockdown and stay at home order. The alert warning was also raised across the rest of the country to orange, in all the remaining 59 provinces many of which had previously been green and considered safe.

Deciding to ignore expert warnings, the government allowed the Songkran holidays to go ahead, even adding an extra day. However no mass gatherings or water splashing were allowed.

(Songkran is the Thai New Year celebration which typically lasts 3-4 days, leading to a mass exodus of cities like Bangkok).

Last year, due to Covid-19, the holiday was cancelled. As a result of the holiday this year, a few outbreaks in Bangkok allowed the virus to spread widely. The Bangkok outbreaks centred on entertainment places; restaurant-pubs and nightclubs around the Thonglor area, plus a high-society wedding at a new riverside hotel, whose guest list included a number of government Ministers and prominent business leaders.

The Covid virus from these few hotspots were quickly spread throughout the whole country, as people returned to their homes for the holidays. Unfortunately this was a perfect storm for spreading the virus. Up until this point, since the beginning of the pandemic, Thailand had only recorded 28,889 cases and 94 deaths as at April 1, 2021. Eighteen days later this has risen to 43,742 cases and 104 deaths. An increase in cases of 51%.

During my recent visit to Hua Hin, empty beaches were very much in evidence already with the third wave leading to mass cancellations. Some resorts, previously 70-80% occupied, saw domestic arrivals decimated. Already hurting from a lack of international visitors, this latest outbreak was a most unwelcome guest.

The question of re-opening Thailand to Tourism, starting with Phuket, has obviously taken a knock backwards.

“The key determinant is insufficient vaccines, we are concerned about the re-opening timeline. We still need to discuss the vaccine administration plan. If the herd immunity goal cannot be achieved, we may have to consider opening only certain areas in Phuket”.

However, to continue with the same plan, even with restricted zones, will not be easy as long as the country still has increasing new daily infections, said Minister Pipat.

“Most importantly, we still have to hear from other countries that we already started travel bubble negotiations with about their confidence regarding the same timeline.”

Like Hua Hin, hotels in the North reported cancellations of more than 70% with Chiang Mai a cause for concern and currently experiencing increased coronavirus cases. Prior to the pandemic, the province was a popular destination to celebrate Thai New Year.

Regrettably Minister Pipat is in self-quarantine after being in close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19. The Minster fortunately has already received his first vaccination jab last month (AstraZeneca) and will remain in isolation until next week when all tests are complete (3 swab tests).

ANDREW J WOOD

Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skål International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

The content of this article reflects the writer and does not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of The Thaiger.

 

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

A Thailand Covid update that you won’t read in the news

Tim Newton

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Tim Newton goes through some of the moving goal posts regarding Thailand’s Covid situation RIGHT NOW. Vaccines for expats, what will happen after Songkran, provincial restrictions, new quarantine requirements. Reading the tea leaves and reading between the lines, Tim provides his personal opinions on many issues expats and foreigners in Thailand are worried about at this time.

 

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