The Prime Minister then quickly apologised for his confusion, saying that Bangkok and Phuket both had the same problem: traffic congestion.
“I am happy to preside over the opening ceremony for this underpass, which has been built to help resolve traffic problems,” he said.
“Two underpasses in Phuket were initiated by previous governments, but completed during this administration,” PM Prayut said.
“The other three underpasses in Phuket were started and finished during this administration,” he added.
The 350-metre long Chalong Underpass, a B546mn-budget project more than three years and 11 months in the making, opened to traffic between May 31 and June 3 this year. (See story here.)
Of note, construction of the B500-million underpass being built at the busy turn-off on Thepkrasattri Rd to head toward Phuket International Airport still continues today.
The PM Prayut this morning also made it known that he was aware of plans to build “a road from Kathu to Patong”.
“The plan to build the road has encountered problems as the road must pass through protected forest, but that is for local officials to sort out,” he said.
PM Prayut did not clarify whether he was referring to the Patong Tunnel project or the alternative route proposed to the National Legislative Assembly last year. (See story here.)
However, he added, “But local people should not stage any protests about it, as that will only slow the process down. Thai people need to harmonise, no matter if you are poor or rich, we have to move forward together.”
The move to develop Phuket’s transport infrastructure was in line with the government’s 20-year national strategy, the prime minister said.
“We have a lot of projects to do, so we must have proper project planning, that’s why we must have a 20-year national strategy,” he said.
The PM explained that taxes were most commonly collected from higher-revenue generating areas and often such taxes were spent on projects in those “richer” areas.
“But some areas are poor and little taxes are collected due to the low incomes of the local people, but there is no need for people living in these areas to worry, as that is what the national strategy is for – making sure everyone is looked after,” he said.
PM Prayut also pointed out that the policy under the national strategy required that major infrastructure projects be financed with 30% of the project’s funds provided by the government, and the remaining 70% from private investors.
“And the development of every project must take into account the impact on environment and be friendly with natural resources,” he said.
“A lot of politicians have criticised this government for creating a lot of debt, but the national debt under this administration has budget has grown from 40% to only 42%,” he added.
The PM also highlighted key issues specific to Phuket.
“Phuket lacks human resources development,” he said blankly.
On beach management, PM Prayut pointed out that his understanding was that tourists liked to see unspoilt beaches.
“That’s why the government needs to set out areas where vendors may set up. We can’t just have everyone setting up stalls anywhere along the beach, or hawkers walking along the sands disturbing tourists,” he said
Not mentioned was that Phuket is the only province in the country with a “beach management system” in place.
Also not mentioned was the issue of untreated wastewater pouring across the sands and into the water at popular tourist beaches here.
Joining PM Prayut at the event this morning was Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda, Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkon and our own Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana.
To mark the actual official opening of the Chalong Underpass, the special guests at the same time placed their hands on a plasma ball while a video of fireworks exploding was displayed on a screen behind them.
The prime minister and his entourage also reviewed displays highlighting major development projects both planned and underway in order to resolve traffic problems in Phuket, including watching a video of Chalong Underpass through its various stages of construction and reviewing posters explaining the development of major and secondary roads by the Highways Department and the Phuket light-rail project.
After the official opening ceremony had concluded, PM Prayut and his high-ranking companions traveled to the Phuket Marine Biological Research Center (PMBC) at Cape Panwa to be updated on the recovery of the two rescued dugongs Mariam and Yamil, whose rescue from Krabi last week and their ongoing recovery has taken Thai social media sites by storm.
Their recoveries are now live-streamed 24 hours a day. (See story here.)
PM Prayut today also visited the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command at Cape Panwa, where he was to preside over a ceremony pay homage to Prince Abhakara Kiartivongse, commonly revered as “The Father of Thai Navy”, at the Krom Luang Chumphon Monument.
PM Prayut also presided over the full-scale disaster-response exercise held at the nearby Phuket Deep Sea Port at Ao Makham as part of the Integrated Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Training 2019 (IDMEx) exercise, and visited the Development Project of the Phuket Deep Sea Port.
Additional reporting by Eakkapop Thongtub