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Phuket’s Bhuritt calls for return of Sonthaya as Tourism Minister



PHUKET: Leading Phuket tourism business analyst Bhuritt Maswongsa has voiced his approval for the Tourism and Sports Ministry portfolio to go to the newly-formed Palang Chon Party.

Mr Maswongsa, who is the Phuket Tourist Association’s Vice President for Marketing, said the Palang Chon Party’s de facto leader Sonthaya Khunplome understands the developmental needs of tourism provinces because of his experiences in developing his home province of Chon Buri.

Mr Sonthaya served as Tourism and Sports Minister under Thaksin Shinawatra. He is among the 111 former executives of the Thai Rak Thai party nearing the end of a five-year political ban for electoral fraud after the party was dissolved in 2007.

Now serving as an adviser to Palang Chon Party, Mr Sonthaya has appeared on television recently outlining the ways he would improve the ministry if he were appointed minister.

Describing Thailand as “amazing”, Mr Buritt said anything was possible when it came to Cabinet appointments in Thailand, but added that change at the top of the Tourism and Sports Ministry was overdue.

“It’s too soon to predict anything because Thailand is one of these amazing countries. If you are a politician you are somehow deemed qualified to be the minister of any of 18 ministries,” he said.

However, Mr Sonthaya appears well qualified to lead the Tourism and Sports ministry, he said.

“If he has the chance he will do it. He showed he had the caliber and professionalism to manage Pattaya and Chon Buri to become popular cities.

“Pattaya right now is going to get a light rail system between Chon Buri Town and Pattaya on two lines: red and green. It is already under construction. It is the first light rail system in Thailand outside Bangkok,” he said.

“Pattaya has had a lot of development in its tourism industry in the past few years. His two brothers are also keen on tourism development because they have a lot of business interests in Pattaya and Chon Buri,” Mr Bhurritt noted.

“In contrast, the house from Suphan Buri [the Chart Thai Pattana Party of de facto leader Banharn Silapa-archa] has been ruling the ministry of Tourism and Sports, but they have done nothing. They just use the budget to do projects that achieve little. So I think it would be a positive change,” he said.

Asked whether he thought the new Government would order a bureaucratic reshuffle that would see sitting Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha transferred, Mr Bhurritt said this was not likely because Mr Tri is approaching mandatory retirement age.

“Normally, a civil servant who has one year left will not be transferred, no matter who is in control of the Interior Ministry. This is tradition.

“The only exception is for those who resist the force of change, in which case they have to go. But if you are just a professional government officer you will be fine,” he said.

As a key figure in Phuket’s tourism industry, Mr Bhuritt is a member of a special advisory committee chaired by Gov Tri that has tourism-related issues at the top of its agenda.

Asked if there had been any progress recently on the issue of tuk-tuks, Mr Bhurritt said there had not.

“In the foreground everyone says ‘yes, we have to do it’. But in the background I know it’s just frozen. Nothing has happened yet.

“Controlling the number of tuk-tuks and taxis should be easiest thing to do, but they aren’t even doing that,” he said.

In addition to overpricing, oversupply of both tuk-tuks and “black-plate” unregistered taxis was a huge problem that had gone unaddressed because of lack of any effective enforcement, said Mr Bhurritt.

“People see one person doing it and they say ‘I’ll do it too’, and nobody is stopping them,” he added.

— Stephen Fein


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