Gov Norraphat and all Vice Governors involved also declined to comment on an emergency meeting of the Provincial Public Transportation Committee (PPTC) held at Phuket Provincial Hall on Wednesday (July 26), starting at 8am.
The silence follows the same influential committee delaying the deadline for the Patong drivers to relinquish their tightly controlled “parking spaces” – aka “taxi stands” or “ranks” – not once, but twice already: first on May 24, then again on July 3.
The delays followed requests for “kindness” from the drivers, and their refusal to accept the PPTC’s decision to reduce the number of parking spaces for the drivers in Patong from 84 to just 21. They need more, say the drivers. Specifically, they want 28 more, bringing the total number of taxi, tuk-tuk and van ranks in in Patong to 49.
“Today was only to report about the parking points in Patong to Phuket Governor Norraphat. This report continued from previous requests from Patong van, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers on July 3,” Phuket Vice Governor Siwaporn Chuasawad told The Phuket News on Wednesday (July 26).
Vice Governor Snith Sriwihok, who chairs a PPTC subcommittee specifically tasked with managing public parking, declined to reveal any proactive steps to resolve the issue.
“I attended the meeting, but I didn’t stay long. I have other missions (sic) to cover,” he said.
“Everything must wait for further discussion by the committee,” he added.
Asked whether any action will be taken on August 3, he said, “I do not have an action plan yet. We will inform you when we have an update.”
Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO) Chief Banyat Kantha also declined to comment. “All details are have yet to be confirmed. I don’t have right to speak about it,” was all he would say.
Col Santi Sakuntanark, Commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment and the highest-ranking army officer stationed in Phuket, decided to refrain from any public position.
Asked what will soldiers actually do on Aug 3, Col Santi said, “Go to ask Public Transportation Management Committee.”
That response flew in the face of Lt Col Surasak Phuengyam, Deputy Commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment, announcing last Friday that the Patong drivers had until Aug 3 to move out or face action from the military. (See story here.)
Patong has a deadly history over where taxis and tuk-tuks park on the streets. Patong Tuk-Tuk Club President Sakol Srisompoch was slain in a hail of gunfire while sitting in the cab of his tuk-tuk in Kathu on Oct 25 last year after what police later discovered was a “personal dispute” when a tuk-tuk driver from Karon started parking in a space reserved for Patong drivers only. (See story here.)
The killing came only weeks after Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha present at the opening of the new International Terminal at Phuket International Airport ordered that the “The mafia problem must not happen again, and especially with taxis.” (See story here.)
That reminder to law-enforcement agencies direct from the Prime Minister followed the mass arrests of well over 100 taxi and tuk-tuk drivers in the anti-mafia campaign by the military and police in 2014.
“Realising the problem about mafia taxi drivers disgracing the image of Phuket, I set up a team led by Gen Paween (Pongsirin) and Pol Maj Gen Weerasak Meenawanich from Region 8 to investigate and collect evidence,” said Gen Panya Mamen, who at the time was the Commander of Region 8 Police.
More than 1,000 police officers, soldiers and local authority officials were called in to carry out the Phuket taxi and tuk-tuk anti-mafia blitz, leading to scores of arrests and the seizure of millions of baht deemed illegally acquired. (See stories here and here.)