After fielding a barrage of questions at the Governor Meets The Press meeting at Provincial Hall today (May 21), Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong handed the meeting over to Satien Kaewpraprab, Deputy Chief Administrator (Deputy Palad) of the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor), to answer.
The PPAO is at the heart of the lifeguard crisis after it refused last September to increased the budget on offer by contract for any organisation to bid for.
Consequently, no companies or organisations placed a bid, including the Phuket Lifeguards Service (PLS), which had provided lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches for more than 10 years.
Mr Satien was called on to respond to the questions as PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Pathomwattanapong was not present at the meeting, despite Mr Watcharin playing a central role in the lifeguard contract debacle last year.
Mr Watcharin remains PPAO Acting Chief.
“We don’t ignore tourist lives. We already do what the Phuket Governor told us to do already,” Mr Satien said defensively.
However, Mr Satien today was not ready to take the blame personally for the actions of entire PPAO.
“I admit that previous budget under the TOR (terms of reference on offer under the government concession contract to provide lifeguards) were decided on by PPAO council members,” Mr Satien said.
Mr Satien also pointed blame at the procedures that officials must follow in offering a government concession for contract.
“No one wanted to bid for the original contract offered, so we had to draw up a new one, and then bidding process for a new contract took about six months,” he added.
“The process of drafting and offering an entirely new contract is very difficult and complicated,” Mr Satien said.
The PPAO is providing support for local municipalities, Mr Satien also claimed.
“The PPAO has provided lifeguards to use six items of equipment: walkie-talkies, binoculars, rib rescue boats, rescue boards, oxygen tanks, defibrillators,” he said.
However, when that equipment was provided was not made clear.
As recently as last week, all organisations currently responsible for providing their own lifeguards told The Phuket News that their main frustration was that the PPAO so far had provided nothing in the way of life-saving equipment, including the current government concession contract holder LP Laikhum Co Ltd. (See story here.)
One point that was finally made clear was that the PPAO was not contradicting Governor Norraphat’s direct order last year to no longer be involved in any aspect of providing lifeguards.
“Currently local administration organisations (OrBorTor and local municipalities) receive a budget from the PPAO after I used my power to push them (the PPAO) to do it because this is an urgent issue,” Governor Norraphat himself said today.
“I have done the best I can do for now, and I believe that local municipalities will be more effective in responsibly managing heir own lifeguards on their own beaches,” Governor Norraphat added.
“Local municipalities have to solve their own problems. Anything local municipalities need support for, they can ask for extra budget support from the PPAO,” he said.
Governor Norrpahat also praised Patong Municipality for taking the initiative and providing its own lifeguards and own equipment in order to protect tourists’ lives at Phuket’s busiest tourism beach.
Ironically, the entire lifeguard contingent on guard at Patong are all lifeguards still working with the Phuket Lifeguard Service.