Deputy PM Jurin, who also serves as the Commerce Minister, was in Phuket to hear firsthand the current economic situation in Phuket. He got it, with no room for any misunderstanding.
The clearest description of the current situation on the island came from Phuket Tourism Council President Sarayut Mallam, who pleaded for members of the Cabinet to visit the island to see the economic damage for themselves.
“Please, the government should understand that Phuket is different from other provinces, but the way officials keep speaking, their mindset still thinks that Phuket is the same as other provinces.
“Phuket is hurt more than other provinces. We are ready to welcome tourists and we have asked to be able to manage our own affairs, but there has not been any response to this at all,” he said.
“I want you to inspect Patong and Karon. It has never been like this before. Today is the worst. The situation in Phuket will affect the country’s economy. There is no income to tax, and people’s hearts are sinking, some of them enough to commit suicide,” Mr Sarayut pointed out.
“Today you are here. Could you please present to the Cabinet for them to come to see Phuket, to see what is happening here, so that the whole government will understand what is really happening here.
“We need you to solve the tourism problem, because people have no jobs, there is no money,” he added.
Feeling the tension in the room, the main meeting auditorium at Phuket Provincial Hall, Deputy PM Jurin curtly asked Mr Sarayut: “What do you want?”
Mr Sarayut replied, “I want the government to look at Phuket, and pay attention to what is happening here. Phuket province provides a lot of tax for the government, you get all our taxes.
“Now Phuket is in a hard situation, like it’s in the ICU, and the government does not care,” he said.
“There is no money from the government to help Phuket. We have asked many times, but we are always refused. The only response we get is that the government must take care of the whole country.
“The government must see Phuket province. Even our COVID-19 field hospitals were 100% funded by the private sector. Now the private sector’s money is gone. There is no money,” he added.
One business representative at the meeting, chimed in, pointing out, “We have spent our money to support other people and we have helped ourselves since Feb 28. We have donated food and supplies to people. We have been doing all these things by ourselves.
“Now you are here in Phuket. You are still asking for money from us, and asking what we can do to help Phuket. Hang on, we have already spent our money on helping ourselves already.
“Are you still looking for money from Phuket to hand back to us to help us recover? What is the government doing to help Phuket?” she asked.
Angry, Deputy Prime Minister Jurin replied, “You do not blame me! I am here to solve your problem. I am asking around because I want to find a way to solve your problem.
“I have not even started, and you blame me. I ask the official offices, then I will know how much they have right now,” he said.
Mr Jurin then asked Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew, “How much budget money do you have?”
Governor Narong replied, “There is none.”
Rewat Areerob, a Phuket resort owner who has previously served as a Phuket MP and who now also serves as assistant secretary to Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha, pointed out that some budget funds that may be used could be sourced from the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor).
“The only way to get budget funds in Phuket is from the OrBorJor, because they have a fund that taxed 1% of room rates from hotels. The Phuket Governor is able to access those funds,” he said.
“Currently the OrBorJor is led by only an acting president. The people are not impressed with the workings of the OrBorJor, plus the real president is dead. The OrBorJor must release those funds to help Phuket’s tourism industry,” he added.
While PPAO acting president Watcharin Pathomwattanapong was not present at the meeting, PPAO councillor Manu Kiewkam presented the idea of opening a casino in Phuket.
A more polite Thanusak Phungdet, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that about 160,000 Phuket residents had registered with the Phuket Social Security Office to receive unemployment benefits under the special government project to provide support to workers who were forced to accept reduced pay – or lost their jobs entirely – due to the COVID-19 lockdown policies.
Of those, only 62% had received financial support from the office, Mr Thanusak said.
“Even though the pandemic situation is getting better, a lot of people are still unemployed, as there are no tourists coming to Phuket. Therefore, we want to extend the time for receiving the compensation, from 90 days up to be 180 days,” Mr Thanusak said, repeating a formal request he filed with the central government in May, to which he has still yet to receive a response.
“We also want the government to extend the commercial loan repayment periods by up to three years more, reduce the interest charged from 7% to be 2%, and negotiate with the Bank of Thailand to ease the conditions for applying for loans,” Mr Thanusak added.
Mr Thanusak asked the government to come with B6 million to help promote three key events coming up to help lure more tourists to the island: the Phuket Seafood & Gastronomy Festival, the Phuket Surfing Contest 2020 at Kalim Beach and the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.
He also urged the government to change fishing regulations to allow Phuket fishing boats to start fishing tuna in the Andaman Sea in order to create a new market for local fishermen to start serving.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Mr Jurin pointed out that the Tiew Pan Suk domestic tourism drive by the national government was a key policy to help boost tourism throughout the country.
To this, a representative from the Phuket office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) reported that after two days Phuket was currently ranked the fourth most popular destination in the country, but declined to give any number of the actual bookings made.
The representative also pointed out that the Phuket TAT office could provide B300,000 towards the promotion of the three upcoming events.
To this, Mr Jurin pointed out, “See, I have already found B300,000.”
He added, “Fundraising is not my job, but we will get the funds from the Ministry of Finance.”
In closing the meeting, Deputy PM Jurin said, “From speaking with officials and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), we are ready to support the budget B6 million for holding the events, in order to keep business in Phuket going.”
“This will help people to relax in stressed situations like this. It will help Phuket province to breath for a while.
“I am concerned about everyone here because the grassroots of the economy has been affected, which brings consequences for businesses big and small.
“I encourage everyone on every level to get through this situation well. Whatever the government can do, the government will do. Today, it is a chance to help only a quarter to Phuket province,” he added.