The land reclaimed from private operators, profiteering from operating tourism and tourism-dependent businesses on the land, altogether has been estimated to be worth over B10 billion.
After years of legal action, the demolition to knock down the last remaining illegal beachfront buildings on the state land began on Sept 30 last year.
The Department of Special Investigations (DSI) originally served eviction notices in 2017 after the Supreme Court ruled that the occupiers were illegally encroaching on state land.
Several ‘final warnings were issued for years after the Supreme Court decision, with the last eviction notice served on Sept 12, 2022 ‒ meaning that the businesses on the land targetting tourists were allowed to continue to operate all throughout Phuket’s tourism industry’s record-breaking period from 2016 through 2019. Officials have not made any announcements about recovering any of the illegally obtained income from the occupiers of the land during those years.
Joining Ms Pongsawat yesterday was Ministry of Justice Deputy Permanent Secretary Pol Lt Col Prawut Wongsinin, as well as Piya Rakskul, who is now serving as Acting Director General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).
Of note, Mr Piya took up the role as DSI Chief following former DSI Chief Traiyarit Temahiwong being abruptly transferred over the alleged extortion of a bribe by DSI officials and police and subsequent release of 11 Chinese suspects found hiding in a Bangkok house formerly occupied by the consul-general for Nauru.
Ms Pongsawat and her entourage yesterday inspected the land, met local residents and held a meeting at the park officers’ head office at Sirinat National Park to discuss details of the reclamation.
Ms Pongsawat said the land reclaimed should be “considered a gift for the whole world to experience the new tourist areas of Phuket”.
She also praised the coordinated efforts of the many agencies and government offices involved in having the land returned to the state.
“This area is the success of many agencies who jointly claimed back the land to be the public domain. It is an area that is valuable and valuable to the people,” Ms Pongsawat said.
“From now on, the Ministry of Justice will talk and integrate its efforts in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Interior and local tambon administration organisations [OrBorTor],” Ms Pongsawat said.
“Within the [Justice] ministry, there are agencies that specialise in this area, namely the DSI and the Legal Execution Department, who came to take care of the people in reclaiming the area,” she said.
However, Ms Pongsawat also noted, “From now on the work of the agency will not adhere to normal procedures because some cases have ‘expired’ [sic]. Therefore, an integrated dialogue is an important policy.
“In some matters, if the regulations cannot be applied, administrative measures will be used to jointly solve this problem, and we will be asking how to support the DSI in order to complete the mission of reclaiming the country’s resources.”
The term “expired” was not defined by any official reports of Ms Pongsawat’s visit yesterday. However, according to Isara news ‒ but not mentioned in any Phuket reports about 178 rai reclaimed ‒ at last report in October, of the 64 plots reclaimed, two plots were still in the process of legal action. At that time, 172 of the 178 rai had been fully reclaimed, Isara News reported.
Official reports of Ms Pongsawat’s visit yesterday included photos of local residents handing over envelopes directly to Ms Pongsawat and other leading officials ‒ the type of envelope usually used for handing over formal requests ‒ but no reports gave any explanation as to why the envelopes were being handed over.
Regardless, Ms Pongsawat was reported as saying, “The DSI has tools ready to work in this field. If fully utilized, it will be able to reclaim natural resources for the country. In terms of the work of the [Justice] ministry and the DSI, they work closely together, there are policy assignments and officers also personally inspect progress in the operation.”
TRUE AIM REVEALED
Ministry of Justice Deputy Permanent Secretary Pol Lt Col Prawut Wongsinin noted, “In the prosecution of natural resource offences, it cannot be denied that the destination is government officials. The DSI has a challenge in creating understanding among encroachers and investors so that they understand the role we have adn to obey the law.
“The important thing is to understand government officials whose duty is to issue land title documents. Later, when we started prosecuting and integrating with all sectors, it made the roles of various agencies start to be clear… The DSI initiated prosecution and has had success. The situation has improved, but if we ignore it, there will be more encroachment indefinitely,” he said.
“The DSI is an operational unit and must be integrated with law enforcement. It must be transparent, fast and verifiable. The responsible agency must work with us… The goal is not to arrest government officials, not to prosecute investors or people who encroach [on government land]. The main goal is to return forest areas to the state land,” Lt Col Prawut continued.
“Therefore, the results are not statistics for cases filed and court verdicts. The successful result is to follow up on the results of the verdict whether the forest land has been returned to the state. In many cases, we claim success, but the forest land has not been returned yet. Therefore, the ultimate goal must be understood in the same way,” he concluded.
Kurt | 30 January 2023 - 11:06:30