At the meeting, held in the Royal Phuket City hotel, Yaowapa Piboonphol from the PEO explained, “A lot of foreigners work in the diving industry, especially training diving techniques.
“Some do not understand the nature of working legally according to their work permits, so they have been working in the wrong job or in the wrong place.
“This resulted in the recent arrests and complaints [about extortion]. This meeting is to ensure that business owners and the foreigners working for them will have the knowledge and understanding to work legally in the industry, their rights and benefits such as health insurance and the responsibilities of employer and the employee.
Governor Maitri Inthusut, who chaired the meeting, said “Two months ago, there was an appeal about government officers illegally wrongdoing with diver operators. Officers [from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission – PACC] came to take on the case and will continue to investigate.
“Today’s proactive meeting was called to explain the rules and regulations to obtain a work permit that allows them to work anywhere in Phuket.
“We were informed about some police officers who were able to exploit gaps in the law for corrupt purposes, which created a bad image.
“We are going to try to set up a system to prevent this kind of incident from destroying the image of tourism [in Phuket].
“In Thailand, there are 164 dive companies and 194 dive instructors, of which 60 per cent are in Phuket.
“We are not investigating the complaints ourselves; we have government officers who have come [from the PACC] to do this.”
He noted, too, that corruption was not always one-way. “Some companies were clandestinely breaking the law with the consent of government officers.”
Pol Maj Gen Ronnapong Saikaew, Deputy Commander of Region 8 and vice-president of the Association of Thailand Underwater Sports (ATUS) said, “Part of the problem of government officers extorting money from dive operators stemmed from misunderstanding by foreigners of how to get a work permit to allow them to comply with all the rules.
“We will try to get the business operators to become members of the ATUS so that it will be easier for us make recommendations to them about details of the profession, and close gaps in the law.”
Phuket’s dive industry is notoriously competitive and fractious, and few of the companies in the past have been keen to pay the fees to join ATUS or its predecessor, the Thailand Dive Association – though when there is a problem they expect ATUS to solve it.
Gen Ronnapong added, “As for the recent [extortion] cases, one of the police officers has been transferred out of the area. The cases of the rest of the accused officers are currently going through the legal process. If they are found guilty they may be discharged from the police.”