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Special Report: The ongoing battle for a place to call home

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Special Report: The ongoing battle for a place to call home | The Thaiger
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Special Report:

A poor community of less than 500 people who mostly make a living from picking through the trash at Saphan Hin have made a plea to the Phuket Governor for help in expediting their claim to live in a protected mangrove forest on the outskirts of Phuket Town.

Will the villagers finally get a place to call home? The Phuket Gazette‘s Saran Mitrarat reports.

PHUKET: The small village that currently calls itself the “Klong Koh Pee Community” numbers 171 households whose residents once lived on the fringe of the huge landfill behind the Saphan Hin incinerator in Phuket Town.

For health reasons, government officers forced the 463 residents to relocate, and the villagers have since rebuilt their community among the nearby Klong Koh Pee mangroves, which are registered as a protected forest.

However, many of the residents still make their living by picking among the mountains of trash at the landfill in search of items to sell for cash.

Governor Maitri last week led a team of officials to hear the villagers’ top concern firsthand: they have been waiting for years to be issued a “Community Chanote” land document that would guarantee their right to live where they are now, among the mangroves.

“Eighteen communities [in Phuket] have requested a Community Chanote,” Governor Maitri explained to the villagers.

“So far three communities – Klong Koh Pee, as well as the Tah Sak and Ao Yon communities in Pa Khlok – have passed the fourth and final step in the process.”

However, the applications are now in the hands of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Bangkok. The officials there must vet the applications and present them to Cabinet for final approval.

Waiting

The cross-over of responsibilities between the government departments involved is the likely culprit for the delay, explained Gov Maitri.

“I have received no updates from the Royal Forestry Department, which is responsible for overseeing protected mangrove forests, related to these applications,” Gov Maitri said.

“Government officials are working too slowly,” he said.

Community leader Seksan Suknuek begged Gov Maitri to throw his weight into pushing forward with the issuance of the deed.

“We applied for a Community Chanote in 2010. Since then, we have seen two governors come and go.

“Please help us to see an end to this during your term. It would be deeply appreciated,” Mr Seksan pleaded.

Mired

The Community Chanote scheme, created under the former Democrat government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, is designed to allow communities to live on government land and use it for agriculture, but does not allow the land to be sold.

However, the current Yingluck Shinawatra administration has not moved forward with the plan, reportedly out of fear that it could lead to more encroachment on state land.

The Klong Koh Pee community was one of 35 villages selected nationwide to pilot the project in 2010.

However, to qualify, the communities needed to show that they are capable of managing the land successfully.

A total of 187 communities in Thailand applied for Community Chanote titles, but 17 of the 35 communities selected for the pilot project live on land owned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE).

Suwit Khunkitti, the Environment Minister at the time, criticized the scheme, saying he feared that distributing title deeds to communities living on protected forest land could encourage more residents to encroach on forests.

That announcement was followed months later by a Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) panel being formed to review all claims to plots deemed to be on government land.

Since then, however, little has been heard about the panel or its findings.

On the ISOC panel’s fact-finding team was Phoppol Sirilugsanapong, at that time the head of the Natural Resources Division of the Phuket Natural Resource and Environment Office.

Mr Phoppol identified the lack of consistent policy as one of the main issues hindering enforcement of land rights.

“The [central] government should be clear about forest policy, but the problem we have found is that policy changes with each government,” he said.

For the residents of Klong Koh Pee, the lack of consistency in policy has seen them stand by and watch Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra approve a four-lane flyover across the protected swamp only last year, while seeing no progress in securing their own land rights.

For Sale

Among the chief concerns cited by the ISOC panel was the fear that Community Chanotes would be somehow sold to private investors, a recurring problem with the similar SorPorKor land use documents, which specifically allow people with low incomes to occupy and farm – but not own – state land. “Community Chanote” titles, however, are different from SorPorKor land use documents because they are issued to villagers as communal land that no particular individual owns.

Nonetheless, there are frequent official investigations into allegations of plots on state land being issued full Chanote title status, allowing private investors to develop hotels, restaurants and resorts on the land.

In full recognition of the corrupt state of Phuket’s land title issuing process, the villagers have taken their own steps to inspire confidence among officials that the residents will not sell their land if granted a Community Chanote.

“We understand that people sell land purely to make money, so we have set up a community fund to provide loans at very low interest to villagers who need money,” Mr Seksan explained to Gov Maitri.

“To prevent our land from falling into the hands of private investors, some of the local villagers who can afford it have made voluntary donations into a fund which will provide loans of up to 200,000 baht per household at a rate of one per cent interest per year to people who have no money.

“So far, we have about 500,000 baht already in the fund,” he said.

The Way Ahead

On hearing the villagers’ plight, Governor Maitri pledged that he would investigate the delay in issuing the Community Chanote.

“As I said earlier, government officers are working too slowly on this, so I will push for the application to be expedited,” he said.

“I will find out exactly who has the application, and call them directly to ask them to help process the application,” Governor Maitri vowed.

— Saran Mitrarat

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

Phuket

4 billion baht medical hub planned for Phuket

Maya Taylor

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4 billion baht medical hub planned for Phuket | The Thaiger
Mai Khao beach in north Phuket. PHOTO: Booking.com

Phuket officials are setting aside around 4 billion baht to transform medical tourism in the southern province of Phuket, by developing a state-of-the-art treatment hub in the north of the island. The Bangkok Post reports that the Treasury department is planning to give the Public Health Ministry permission to use 141 rai of government land in the sub-district of Mai Khao, close to Phuket International Airport. It’s not the first time the proposal has come to light.

The concept is gathering support as Phuket battles to diversify its attraction beyond a tropical holiday island.

The aim is to develop Phuket as a world-class health and wellness destination, with facilities that will attract medical tourists from all over the world, as well as providing a high standard of treatment to the local population. It’s understood the facility will provide a full range of health services, including long-term care, and hospice and rehabilitation services.

The island already has a well-developed medical tourism market, but has been based around local hospitals and clinics linking up with foreign marketing companies in the past. “The International Medical and Public Health Service” has been conceived to create more long term financial security and diversification, and value-added tourism in Phuket, as the island has taken a heavy financial hit over the past 7 months.

4 billion baht medical hub planned for Phuket | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Phuket Andaman News

The plan was first suggested in 2017, by then governor, Noraphat Plodthong and confirmed by the director of Phuket’s Vachira Hospital, Dr. Chalermpong Sukontapol, in July. At that stage, the estimated budget was 3-4 billion baht. The director-general of the Treasury department, Yuthana Yimkarun, says the plot is being offered to the Health Ministry for free. The land is thought be worth around 1 billion baht.

Yuthana says the ministry will manage investment, with approximately 2 billion baht required for the first stage of the project. Construction of the facility is expected to be completed over 2 years.

Meanwhile, it’s understood that unused government land that is currently managed by various government agencies may be moved under the remit of central government, with a view to increasing its worth. According to the Bangkok Post report, just 4% of government land is directly managed by the Treasury. The other 96% is controlled by various government agencies. Yuthana says the plan is to increase the percentage of state-owned land under the Treasury’s management to 10% within 2 years.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

“Open the borders, safely”, Bill Heinecke, Minor International interview – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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“Open the borders, safely”, Bill Heinecke, Minor International interview – VIDEO | The Thaiger

Bill Heinecke speaks to Bill Barnett. The two heavy-hitters of Thailand’s hotel and hospitality sector, mull over the current Covid situation and the reopening of Thailand’s borders to some form of tourism. Bill Heinecke is the Chairman and Founder of Minor International.

Bill Barnett is the Managing Director of c9hotelworks.com

Now the Thai government has approved the special long-term tourist visa scheme (STV), hoteliers are remaining skeptical about reopening due to the lack of clarity in the recent announcement, which will reportedly take effect next month. The president of the Thai Hotels Association’s southern chapter says more hoteliers will consider reopening if the government gives further information about the plan in terms of prospective markets, arrival dates, origin countries, and flights.

Such details would allow hotels to prepare themselves ahead of time to offer services as alternative state quarantine premises as at least 60 hotels in Phuket are awaiting approval to operate such facilities.

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Bangkok

Now they’re coming… Special Tourist Visa flight set for Tuesday – Tourism and Sports Minister

Caitlin Ashworth

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Now they’re coming… Special Tourist Visa flight set for Tuesday – Tourism and Sports Minister | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Unsplash: Suhyeon Choi

After much confusion and a few apparent ‘misunderstandings’, Chinese tourists on the Special Tourist Visa will actually arrive on October 20 and 26. At least that’s what Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says, according to the Bangkok Post. The first group is said to arrive 4 days from now in Bangkok (if they actually applied for the visa this time).

Reports circulated for weeks about a flight of 120 to 150 tourists set to arrive in Phuket on October 8 from Guangzhou, China. An announcement was made shortly after the flight was due to arrive with Tourism Authority Governor Yuthasak Supasorn saying “administrative issues” had caused the delay.

It was later reported that no one from Guangzhou had actually applied for the visa and it was all just a misunderstanding after the Tourism Authority of Thailand reportedly passed off a list of those “interested” in the visa as actual applications.

This time, the Post is reporting the first group of 120 tourists from Guangzhou will arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday. Another group of 120 tourists, also from Guangzhou, will arrive on October 26, but the Post didn’t say where that flight will land.

It’s apparently the same group that was planned to arrive in Phuket on October 8, but the minister claims the trip was postponed due to the Vegetarian Festival which is planned to run until October 25. Both the Phuket governor and National Security Council secretary general had claimed the festival was the reason for the delayed flight and was intended to ease fears of Covid-19 for the festival-goers coming in from the rest of Thailand.

Even though the new long stay tourist visa is good for 90 days, and can be renewed twice, the tourists will only stay in the country for 30 days, with 14 of those days in quarantine. Phiphat says the Tourism Authority of Thailand will find activities to keep the tourists occupied while in quarantine.

The visitors will be the first international tourists after a 6 month ban to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Thai officials have been discussing plans for months about how to safely reopen borders to revive the country’s economy which is heavily driven by the tourism industry. Officals are now talking about cutting down the mandatory time for quarantine from 14 days to 7 days to help entice people to visit.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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