Operators of illegal hotels on June 12 were ordered by PM Prayut to register with local authorities. The order also temporarily suspended the enforcement of town planning and local building control regulations on certain buildings that are used for hotel business operations, effectively granting amnesty to hotel operators who have not been in compliance with these regulations and hotel laws in the past.
While it is not clear whether the order specifically targets owners of condominium buildings where units are rented out for periods of less than 30 days – by which the building by law will be deemed as operating as a hotel as defined under he Hotel Act – the plethora of small hotels in Patong that have dodged regulation are now squarely in the firing line as the order by PM Prayut was issued through the “emergency powers” Section 44 of the Constitution.
The much-feared Section 44 specifically empowers the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) leader to issue any order “for the purpose of reforms in various fields, for the enhancement of unity and harmony among people in the country, or for the prevention, restraint, or suppression of any act which undermines public order or national security, the Monarchy, the national economy, or State affairs, irrespective of whether such act occurred inside or outside of the Kingdom”. (See here.)
Section 44 orders issued are all deemed lawful, constitutional and final, and require a report to be submitted to the President of the National Assembly and the Prime Minister “for acknowledgement without delay”.
Ms Chalermluck this week dismissed any responsibility for rolling out the order, instead saying that the responsibility lay with Phuket Vice Governor Supoj Rotreuang Na Nongkhai.
She even declined to give an estimate of how many hotels were believed to be operating illegally in Patong, Phuket’s busiest tourism town. “It’s a lot,” she said. “But all that information is with V/Gov Supoj.”
“We are not anything to them [illegal hotels] yet. We will wait for the Vice Governor first,” she said.
Operators of illegal hotels have two months to register their businesses correctly, Mayor Chalermluck noted. “After that it all depends on what special instructions that V/Gov Supoj has,” she said.
“We want illegal hotels to become legal, but it is Vice Governor Supoj’s responsibility. He will call out to all small hotels, including illegal hotels, across Phuket, not only those in Patong,” she added.
Ms Chalermluck also confirmed that the amnesty granted under the June 12 order only re-confirmed an amnesty already granted in the fallout from a crackdown on illegal hotels in Phuket three years ago, when the Ministerial Regulation Prescribing Descriptions of Other Types of Building Used for a Hotel Business Operation 2016 under the Building Control Act (1979) was introduced. (See story here.)
However, the regulation applies only to buildings that existed before it came into force and whose owners desire to use the property as “Hotel” as defined by the Hotel Act.
The regulation issued in 2016, and the amnesty provided under it, remains in effect for five years, coincidentally until nearly the exact same Aug 21, 2021 deadline in the latest amnesty issued by PM Prayut on the condition that hotel operators register with local authorities.
“We know this regulation has been active for three years, but still some hotels are avoiding becoming legal, but now the Prime Minister has issued this order because he is concerned about tourist safety right now,” Mayor Chalermluck said.
Regarding breaches of building regulations other than fire safety, such as illegal wastewater disposal, Mayor Chalermluck assured that Patong Municipality officers were still “conducting inspections from time to time”.
“We [Patong Municipality] have done our part already with other things. We always repeat to them [hotel operators] about wastewater and trash, but it is nothing to worry about as most small hotels have their wastewater systems emptying into Patong Municipality drains. The drains connect to the wastewater-treatment plant,” she said.
Mayor Chalermluck’s assurance to The Phuket News oddly contradicted her own repeated pleas for hotel operators to have their wastewater systems connected to the council’s sewage network and the repeated – and self confessed – failings of Patong’s wastewater treatment plant to cope with the volume of wastewater flowing to it and through the Bang Yai Canal, which empties into Patong Bay at the southern end of the beach.
“I want them [hotels] to to fix some parts to be correct, even now parts of some buildings can be fixed to comply with the rules, but we have to wait for them to register before the August deadline first.
“V/Gov Supoj plans to bring together all hotels to join together in two months’ time. We will relay announcements immediately through Patong Municipality website and Facebook page,” Mayor Chalermluck said.
While not avoiding contact from The Phuket News, Phuket Vice Governor Supoj so far has been unavailable for comment due to his current busy schedule.