The issue was tabled during a two-day visit by Prof Kowit Phuangngam, Chairperson of the House of Representatives Extraordinary Committee established to consider the problems and obstacles in the provision of public services and public activities.
Prof Kowit was investigating the issues involved in allowing local administrations more authority in dealing with water supply problems, said a report by the Phuket office of the Public Relations Department (PR Phuket).
By extension, the discussion yesterday involved the committee investigating the issues involved in the “establishment of a special form of local government organization and self-management provinces and supervision of local government organisations”, said the report.
Among those present for the discussion were Phuket Vice Governor Pichet Panapong and Phuket City Mayor Saroj Angkhanapilas.
The purpose of the discussion was “exchanging opinions”, the PR Phuket said.
However, the report made no mention of any suggestions proposed.
“The committee listened to the opinions of the local administrators and local government officials yesterday and today [Mar 29-30] heard information from the central government,” the report said.
“Local authorities in Phuket are to collect information for further action on their relevant parts,” the report concluded.
Phuket formally being designated a ‘Special Administrative Area’ has been proposed many times over the past two decades as a way for the province to cope with rapid growth in tourism that before COVID-19 saw the island each year generate billions of baht for the national economy.
Current proponents for Phuket having more autonomy include Phuket Chamber of Commerce President Thanusak Phungdet along with Rewat Areerob, a former MP representing Phuket now currently serving as President of the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor).
Mr Thanusak submitted a formal request to Cabinet in November 2020 to have Phuket declared a Special Administrative Area. Until the meeting yesterday, more than a year later, the central government had remained silent on the request.
The issue of Phuket being left helpless to help itself while being ignored by the central government, which for decades reaped the economic benefits of Phuket’s success as a tourism destination, became a key sore point in July 2020 when the island’s economy was crushed by the economic impact of the COVID-19 policies.
Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit bore the brunt of the anger from local representatives pointing out the lack of support for Phuket residents left without any income, and dependent on food handouts from private sources to survive.
The issue reared its head again in April last year when Phuket was refused permission to buy its own vaccines in order to be able to reopen to tourism as quickly as possible.
Korn Chatikavanij of the recently formed Kla Party (“Brave Party”) in October last year confirmed in an exclusive interview with The Phuket News that the Kla Party had become the first national political party to make a more autonomous Phuket with Phuket people being able to elect their own Governor official party policy.
As such, if the Kla Party wins the next national election, making Phuket a Special Administrative Area will be part of the party’s mandate.
Mr Korn, who served as Finance Minister under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, was in Phuket to confirm Thames Kraitat as the Kla Party candidate for Phuket in the next general election, currently expected to be held in November this year.
The two current Members of Parliament representing Phuket ‒ Sutha ‘Goh Tui’ Pratheep Na Thalang and Nattee Thinsakhu ‒ are both representatives from the ruling military-aligned Palang Pracharath Party, led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.