The council resolution, voted in August and in effect from October, saw 19 council members voting to reduce the funding. Two council members abstained.
The budget cut, down to B19.8 million per year, is to remain in effect annually for three years.
“It is not worth paying B22 million for Phuket lifeguards,” PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Patomwatthanapong told The Phuket News.
“We planned to reduce the budget by cutting unnecessary things out. We will also give hotels the chance to support the lifeguards in providing beach safety,” he said.
However, Mr Watcharin gave no definition of what was deemed “unnecessary”.
According to the announcement on the PPAO website, “The purpose of this project is is to boost people’s confidence in safety, defence and to protect tourists from loss or death.”
“I believe hotels will provide staff to support lifeguards on the beaches. Then we will have extra staff for tourists’ safety,” Mr Watcharin explained.
“It is a chance for hotels to be responsible and take care of their own guests as we join together to provide for their safety,” he added.
However, the PPAO has yet to clarify why the hotels would pay out of pocket to support lifeguards further when they already funded the lifeguard budget through the “Hotel tax” of 1% of each room rate charged at every registered hotel in the province.
As far back as 2004, the PPAO raked in B44 million in hotel tax collections, with only 214 hotels on the island paying contributions – far fewer than half the number of hotels in Phuket even at that time.
Worse, only last month did Russian tourist Petr Agapov, 57, drown at a section of at Bang Tao Beach where lifeguards are not allowed to patrol because a hotel its has own staff looking after surf safety. (See story here.)
In August, French national Anne Sophie Faisant Torrijos, 23, drowned at a small beach south of Nai Thon where lifeguards are asked not to patrol the waters to keep tourists safe. (See story here.)
As is government protocol, the contract of B19.8mn to provide lifeguard services will be offered for public tender. However, so far no organisation other than the Phuket Lifeguard Service has even deemed the previous budget of B22mn worth even submitting a bid for.
With the budget slashed, PLS President Prathaiyut Chuayuan this week told The Phuket News that he was uncertain whether his lifeguards will want to bid for the contract, a decision that would throw into jeopardy having lifeguards stationed at 38 points on 12 beaches on the island.
“I was surprised to learn that the PPAO cut the budget by 10%, and I didn’t know until I heard it on the radio,” he said.
“I have no idea what made them cut the budget, and we have to consider whether or not to bid for the contract at all,” he added.
Although some hotels already support lifeguards, the budget also pays for the watchtowers, such as the one that collapsed on Karon Beach earlier this year (see story here), and for free surf survival training for children (see story here).
Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup said that she is taking the news very seriously.
“We are really concerned about tourist safety. I will be raising this issue with my staff this week,” she told The Phuket News on Tuesday (Dec 6).
“Patong Beach is more than three kilometres long and there are only three lifeguard stations now, but there are easily more than 1,000 tourists on the beach. During the high season, the number of tourists on the beach is much higher than that,” she said.
“We must come up with a solution, even if we need to find another way to come up with the budget needed ourselves,” Mayor Chalermluck said.
Meanwhile, Ma-ann Samran, Chief of the Cherng Talay Tambon Administration Organisation (OrBorTor), declined to comment.
Cherng Talay OrBorTor is the local authority responsible for Surin Beach, which is renowned for its deadly surf during the southwest monsoon from May through October each year.
“It is not my responsibility to comment,” he said.