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Phuket Opinion: The road to greater autonomy

Phuket Opinion: The road to greater autonomy

PHUKET: Phuket being formally designated a ‘Special Administrative Area’ finally hit the official agenda this week, marking that Bangkok officials – after decades – are now at least recognising the issue, if nothing more.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 3 April 2022, 09:45AM

Prof Kowit Phuangngam, Chairperson of a House of Representatives Extraordinary Committee established to consider the problems and obstacles in the provision of public services and public activities, was in Phuket on a two-day visit this week, during which he sought feedback on the idea of Phukte being designated a ‘Special Administrative Area’. Photo: PR Phuket

Prof Kowit Phuangngam, Chairperson of a House of Representatives Extraordinary Committee established to consider the problems and obstacles in the provision of public services and public activities, was in Phuket on a two-day visit this week, during which he sought feedback on the idea of Phukte being designated a ‘Special Administrative Area’. Photo: PR Phuket

Phuket needs to have more autonomy to serve the needs of the island, as former Democrat Korn Chatikavanij, now of the Kla Party (“Brave Party”), pointed out last year.

The inability of Phuket to residents to elect their own Governor, as is done in the ‘Special Administrative Area’ of Pattaya, has hampered the island’s ability to direct efforts where they have been needed most. No other province in the country has been as deeply affected as Phuket by the COVID-19 impact on tourism, yet Phuket has not been permitted any special status to help support the island’s tourism-dependent industries devastated by the economic impact of the pandemic.

In terms of direct authoritarian control, it is difficult to see what Bangkok has to lose by declaring Phuket a Special Administration Area. Any elected Phuket Governor would have no more authority than the Governor of Pattaya. As evidenced all throughout the COVID pandemic, because of the continually extended state of emergency, Pattaya business operators and residents themselves have had to repeatedly appeal, often with sharp language, for Bangkok to provide assistance for their battered industries.

What Bangkok would lose is the extent of control it would have over provincial budgets, and not much speaks more loudly to national politicians than money. The current system was instituted under the Thaksin administration, making sure all major budgetary decisions were left to those in the capital.

The reason given publicly by the Thaksin government for tightening control over the budgetary decisions was so that it could be better allocated to priority projects. Yet in all the years since then – regardless of who has been in power – very little has come Phuket’s way, other than ludicrous mega-billion-baht projects that have taken decades to get rolling.

The reinvestment in Phuket’s tourism infrastructure development has been lacking. As Bill Barnett pointed out in reporting the sentiment at the Thailand Tourism Forum held last month, “You can’t just take from tourism and say we want more tourists, we want to have more, more, more… without re-investing.” Yet that is exactly what has happened.

Art-Tec Design

Before Bangkok commandeered greater budgetary control, the primary vehicle for implementing policy in Phuket was the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor). At that time, the PPAO was under the leadership of Phummisak Hongsyok representing the local chapter of the “Young Turks” party. But since then, the PPAO withered. It became so overcome with “problems” that even control over the contracts issued for providing lifeguard services at our tourist beaches was taken from them.

Only in the past year have Phuket residents finally been able to witness again what an effective OrBorJor can achieve. Since former Phuket MP Rewat Areerob took office as PPAO President in February last year the PPAO has incredibly active, rolling out project after project to help Phuket residents with food relief, job training initiatives, ensuring care for disabled and the elderly throughout the pandemic and even securing the purchase of Moderna vaccine doses (through the Thai Red Cross, not the national government). The list goes on.

A more empowered PPAO is what Phuket stands to gain from being designated a Special Administration Area.

The current role of the Governor, as a Bangkok-appointed official of the Ministry of Interior, is to ensure central government policy is implemented across the island. Officially, that’s the job. The rest is just extra, including appeasing mobs and keeping up appearances.

With an elected governor, at the very least Phuket would have someone at the top who would not have remain silent when Bangkok is making the decisions for him. Phuket does not need another Bangkok lackey, we have plenty of those already.

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Kurt | 04 April 2022 - 11:58:37

JohnC, we can't compare the China/HK developments since 1997 with the 'relation' BKK/Phuket. Totally different.
Phuket Governors just carry a BKK key to open/close daily the Phuket shop, have no power. Phuket Governors  functions are just ceremonial. They are tale wacking and for 'face' just order sometimes unimportant things. Stay carefully out of contraversions and sit their...

JohnC | 04 April 2022 - 09:34:51

Wasn't Hong Kong called a 'special administrative area' too when China took it back? And look what has happened there ever since.

Capricornball | 03 April 2022 - 23:16:26

Good points Sir Burr.  Silly me, hoping that some element of good governance might make its way into this place, but I think it is a lost cause.  Corruption rules the roost in the entire country.  It has always seemed that the winning governor in Phuket was like a big perk before retirement, come here and pilfer what you can, then fade away to your villa somewhere living off the ill-gotten gains.

Kurt | 03 April 2022 - 18:01:26

Sir Burr, the idea was good. However in praktisch it not works like that. All passed/present governors are like sardines from the same can. Common Phuket Thai have nothing with Governors. More than a bit colourfull dressing, wai and ceremonies here and there nothing comes out of their hands. They avoid that professionally. They are just a BKK channel,

Sir Burr | 03 April 2022 - 16:21:42

The rotating governorship was introduced for a very good reason. It stopped, or lessened the corruption between a voted in governor and the local people of influence. They got far too close to each other. The Phuket influential people controlled the votes and the voted in Phuket governor controlled the pork. The relationship did not benefit the ordinary local people.

Foot | 03 April 2022 - 14:52:26

It is always about the money.  The only way Bangkok would make any changes is if it would increase the bottom line for them.  Any think that's going to happen?

Capricornball | 03 April 2022 - 10:36:49

While what goes on in Thailand's government is not my business, it is my hopes that better governance comes to Phuket (I still wouldn't expect "good" governance). I have never understood the rotating Governorship which seemed to do nothing but perpetuate crap governance. The average Thai needs and deserves better.

Fascinated | 03 April 2022 - 09:59:41

Putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse is ridiculous. Compared to the levels of corruption at the moment they are negligible compared to what would happen. Instead a Governor needs to Govern, not just do fluff. The 'fairness' that would occur would just line few pockets and not benefit the masses.


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