PHUKET: Governor CEO Pongpayome Vasaputi has landed in the middle of a war of words after suggesting that the central government should buy the Phi Phi islands, kick out private businesses and run the islands as a state enterprise. During a speech about the CEO system at a Thai Rak Thai Party seminar on Friday at the Patong Beach Hotel, Gov Pongpayome said, “At the moment many islands are not as beautiful as they used to be. The government should buy them; Phi Phi and other tourist centers should belong to the nation. “Some of the private businesses there cause a lot of damage to the islands and then, after the damage has been done, the government has to fix it. “That’s not right. The best thing would be for the government to buy the islands and then run them itself,” he said. He proposed that, after buying the islands, the government should manage them like a state enterprise, taking care of all businesses initially and letting private operators open again only after “everything is under control”. “It’s lucky that about half of the islands are national park, so buying the land back should cost about 3 billion to 4 billion baht,” he pointed out. Gov Pongpayome’s idea got a scathing reception from Saritpong Kiewkong, Vice-President of the Krabi Provincial Organization Administration (OrBorJor) and owner of the Phi Phi Pavilion Resort. K. Saritpong told the Gazette today, “The Governor of Phuket must be dreaming. He should concern himself only with Phuket Province. I think he must have lost his map.” Many islands in Phuket province, K. Saritpong said, were dirtier than Phi Phi, and Gov Pongpayome should take care of his own backyard before talking about other provinces that are outside his jurisdiction. “Gov Pongpayome has complained that Phi Phi is like a garbage dump. But many islands in Phuket Province, such as Koh Loan and Koh Hei, are like septic tanks,” he said. “The problems in Phi Phi are not caused by the private sector. They are the result of poor law enforcement and a few selfish businessmen. “Local people here are not dreamers like the Governor of Phuket. They think that the government should first take care of basic facilities in Phi Phi, such as power, water, a jetty, sanitation, good walkways, an incinerator, and proper policing,” K. Saritpong said. An incinerator and a water treatment plant were installed many years ago on Phi Phi Don by the central government but have never worked properly because, say locals, no one was taught how to use them properly. A dam to store drinking water, also built by the central government, leaks, despite being repaired three times. “When Gov Pongpayome says that there’s a lot of garbage in the sea around Phi Phi, he is striking a blow at the heart of tourism in Phi Phi,” K. Saritpong said. “I don’t understand why he didn’t discuss the issues privately with those concerned, instead of making them public through the media. “If I were dreaming like the Phuket Governor, I think it would be better for us to sell Phuket Island – it’s more famous, so we could get a lot more money for it and repay Thailand’s IMF loans.” But the local director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Anupharp Thirarath, told the Gazette that he thought a government purchase of Phi Phi would be a fine idea. Pointing out that the Phi Phi Islands attract about 800,000 tourists a year, he said, “Phi Phi has many problems. It is a very beautiful place, but because of encroachment and disorder, its value has been wasted. “If it is possible to reorganize everything and redevelop the Phi Phi Islands, they would become a valuable and classy tourist destination in the future.”
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