PHANG NGA: This province, the hardest hit in Thailand when the tsunami struck on December 26, may end up with twice as many houses as it needs to accommodate peole rendered homeless by the disaster, Provincial Governor Anuwat Metheeviboonwut said on Saturday.
Speaking at his residence in the province, Gov Anuwat said that so many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals, from within Thailand and without, had offered to build homes that the state house-building project had been ended.
He said, “The province needed only about 2,000 houses, but NGOs and others have offered to build more than 4,000.
“I don’t know who will live in these houses – or, for that matter, where we will put them.
“The best we can do for the moment is find a place where these people can build, but they have to organize everything themselves, to sort out problems and make sure the construction process is free of cheating, corruption or commission scams.”
The governor attacked NGOs which, he said, were encouraging people to break the law and occupy land that belongs to the state or other people.
Speaking less than a week after residents of Baan Nam Khem complained to journalists once again about being hounded off their land by property speculators weilding false papers, Gov Anuwat said, “In fact, the land belongs to a private concern, which has all the paperwork, but it had been illegally occupied by local people. The case is going through the courts now.”
He continued, “After the tsunami, the company thought it was a good opportunity to claim the land back, but the local people – supported by NGOs – are being difficult about this.”
The illegal occupation of state land is another headache, said Gov Anuwat. “Some people who were living illegally on state land before the tsunami are saying they should be allowed to live there now, and there are NGOs which are encouraging them in this wrong-doing,” he complained.
“This is a major concern for me. I’m trying to uphold the law, but these NGOs are encouraging people to break it.
“Another headache is people asking for more land than they need: we have had small families asking for three- or five-rai sites to live on; about 10 families have asked for sites with lots of land – that’s a problem I have to solve soon,” he added.
Although some 80% of Phang Nga’s population of 240,000 works in agriculture, tourism was a growing industry before the tsunami – around 70% of the 4,200 people believed to have died when the tsunami struck Phang Nga were tourists – and the collapse of tourism in the province has only added to post-tsunami woes.
Unemployment is high, especially among unskilled workers from the resorts and hotels around Khao Lak; while owners appear to be paying staff at management level and above, they have laid off many of their lower-grade staff.
Despite this cost-cutting, there are still concerns about the hotels’ ability to weather the slump, said Gov Anuwat.
He said, “Most of the investors right now are hoping for help from central government in the shape of soft loans that will enable them to renovate the whole area within six months and be ready to reopen at the start of the high season in November. But many people have still not got help from the banks and other financial institutions.”
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