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Questions raised over Phuket’s Big Buddha

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Questions raised over Phuket’s Big Buddha | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: The management of Phuket’s renowned Big Buddha image has come under scrutiny for slow progress and alleged misuse of land and donated funds.

After more than nine years of construction, land officials are now demanding “a clear deadline” as to when construction at the site, high atop a hill in the Nakkerd Range, will finally come to an end.

In a meeting presided over by Phuket Vice Governor Somkiet Sangkaosutthirak at Provincial Hall, land officials concluded they will issue a demand for clarification from the Mingmongkol Faith 45 Foundation, set up a decade ago to build the giant structure.

The foundation must pull down all unauthorized buildings at the site that are not directly related to authorized construction, said Phoppol Sirilugsanapong, head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment office in Phuket.

Buildings that would need to be dismantled include kuti (sleeping quarters for monks) and a large hall used to sell souvenirs such as Buddhist amulets, stage dhamma talks and offer visitors numerous ways to “make merit”, Mr Phoppol said.

The foundation will also need to mark land-use boundaries, clearly delineate construction areas and set a definite completion date, he added.

Despite completion of the 45-meter-high image, the organization has yet to say when the work will end. And the complex is already beyond the scope specified under the terms of the contract, he said.

The initial contract period, from 2002 to 2006, was extended until the end of this year after the foundation said it needed more time to finish the work, he explained.

If they do not clarify the situation, any further requests for extension might be denied, Mr Phoppol said.

As founder of Mingmongkol Faith 45 Foundation, Suporn Vanitchakul’s responsibility was to build the Buddha image in the allotted time and nothing more, he added.

Instead, the foundation continues to seek donations through the sale of Buddhist souvenirs and erect large structures nearby.

“It’s unclear why it is taking so long to finish the project,” Mr Phoppol told the committee.

Tritip Sakulpradit, an officer at the Muang District Office, said he will examine the foundation’s donation account.

“It will not be easy. The foundation has consistently sought postponement when we request information,” he said.

Mr Suporn told the Phuket Gazette, “We already have a clear design of what we are building on the 42-rai plot of land. Actually, we are only building on about 32 rai. The rest is for car parking and reforestation,” he said.

“Since the budget to build the Big Buddha comes from donations, we can’t set an exact time when the image will be finished,” he said.

“We held a meeting among foundation members and agreed to fight for what is right,” he added.

He had yet to receive any official requests to demolish structures at the site, he said.

“The kuti is for temporary accommodation of visiting clergy and proceeds from the sale of souvenirs are to fund construction of the Big Buddha,” he said.

“Officials can give me their official letters, then we will see what we can do,” he added.

Mr Suporn told the Gazette earlier that he would welcome any audit of the foundation’s finances.

The foundation raised over 200 million baht to fund construction of the image and related structures, including the winding road that provides access to the site.

“Meanwhile there are many expenses, such as paying over 100 laborers,” he said.

Most of the heavy labor at the site, including affixing marble sheets to complete the image’s exterior, was carried out by Burmese workers.

V/Gov Somkiet urged local officials to move on the case.

“If they can’t sort it out themselves, they can ask the provincial office for assistance, he said.

— Atchaa Khamlo

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Re-opening Thailand to tourism will be vaccine dependent

Bill Barnett

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Re-opening Thailand to tourism will be vaccine dependent | The Thaiger

Bill Barnett from c9hotelworks.com continues to follow the difficult journey of the Thai hospitality industry. Traditionally, now would be the start of the country’s highly profitable high season for the tourism industry. But not this year. Thai hotels find themselves in the middle of an existential crisis – either still closed, only partly open, or one of the few converted to limited ASQ traffic. The situation is dire, when you consider that between 15-20% of Thailand’s GDP is linked to tourism.

In a speech this week Thailand’s Prime Minster Prayut Chan-o-cha spoke clearly that only when a vaccine is approved, produced, and implemented, would the country open to substantial tourism. Given the current timelines and forecasts, this may not be likely until mid-2021 at the earliest, though subject to advancement if the process could be accelerated, which is unlikely.

For tourism and hotel stakeholders, the writing is on the wall that 2021, for the most part, will see a continued reliance on domestic travellers, and only in 2022 will there be a large-scale return in numbers of overseas visitors.

Given the winter spike in Asia, Europe, and North America of Covid-19, Thailand is not alone in relying on the vaccine to return tourism but the process will not be instant and the re-openings of borders will most certainly be staged.

HERE’s a list of 113 Alternative State Quarantine hotels.

The business reality for Phuket and across Thailand is to plan for the worst in the coming six months and only expect 2022 to see a notable uptick.

Currently, the hotel sector continues to advocate to the Thai government and Central Bank for debt and financing relief measures and assistance in a social security supplement to retain staff.

While it’s negative news, it at least allows for hotels to understand the challenges ahead, plan and adjust their operating models going forward. ‘Survive the downturn’ is the new mantra.

No vaccine, no entry. Read more HERE.

No vaccine, no flight. Read more HERE.

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Phuket

Phuket workshop helps residents cope with high stress brought on by the economic crisis

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket workshop helps residents cope with high stress brought on by the economic crisis | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook: ประชาสัมพันธ์ เทศบาลตำบลวิชิต

Hundreds of residents in Phuket’s Wichit subdistrict attended a workshop focused on reducing stress from to the pandemic-induced economic crisis. A psychologist was even on site to help those who had extreme mental stress and a Buddhist monk taught meditation techniques to reduce physiological effects of stress.

The event was planned in response to an online survey conducted by the municipality asking residents about how much stress they were experiencing from the economic climate. They found that some residents had serious stress issues brought on by the pandemic and financial problems, according to Wichit Mayor Kreetha Chotiwichphiphat.

“The loss of income due to the economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 situation has resulted in some people in the area suffering serious stress, which can lead to serious mental health issues.”

Around 350 people attended the event. The mayor says it was the first step in caring for the residents’ mental health. Local officials plan to hold similar workshops in the future.

“It was a good opportunity for people to realise the importance of mental health and to learn techniques of how to deal with stress, which will help people to maintain their physical health and avoid developing mental health problems.”

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Phuket

Phuket’s Soi Dog Foundation opens Humane Education Centre at Mai Khao shelter

The Thaiger

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Phuket’s Soi Dog Foundation opens Humane Education Centre at Mai Khao shelter | The Thaiger

The Soi Dog Foundation has officially opened its Humane Education Centre, the first of its kind in Thailand dedicated to the welfare of stray animals. The centre, located at the Soi Dog shelter in northern Phuket, forms part of the foundation’s Humane Education program. Rolled out in 2017, the program sees a team visit Thai schools to teach the next generation the basic principles of animal welfare and promote empathetic attitudes towards both owned pets and free-roaming strays.

The program has reached a total of 15,058 students and 861 teachers to date. With a dedicated classroom as well as educational tools and resources now on site at the shelter, Soi Dog will be able to expand the programme and reach an even greater number of young minds.

Co-founder and president of Soi Dog Foundation International John Dalley said, “The cornerstones of what we do – what I believe very firmly are the answers to the stray dog problem throughout Asia – are large-scale sterilisation of stray dogs and cats and education of, particularly, the next generation.

“We see all the time the problems that are being caused through us not respecting the environment and not respecting the other animals with whom we share this planet. That’s why education is so important.”

John also thanked the supporters and donors who made the construction of the centre possible. After cutting the ribbon, the students filed into the brand-new facility for the very first on-site class – a fun and interactive hour of roleplaying, brainstorming and problem solving.

Humane Education Manager Nuttawut “Film” Kumngern. said… “We want to encourage kindness toward animals, especially free-roaming dogs and cats, and teach youngsters to be responsible pet owners. This will sustainably reduce animal cruelty and pet abandonment.”

“We hope to one day see animal welfare incorporated into the curriculum in Thai schools, and our education centre is a great start.”

Soi Dog is ready to welcome school groups from Phuket and other provinces to the centre which can accommodate up to 40 students at any one time. Schools interested in participating are encouraged to email film@soidog.org

Phuket's Soi Dog Foundation opens Humane Education Centre at Mai Khao shelter | News by The ThaigerPhuket's Soi Dog Foundation opens Humane Education Centre at Mai Khao shelter | News by The Thaiger

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