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Phuket: The public face of Patong

PHUKET: Pian Keesin may be Mayor of Patong, but for many foreigners the face of the town, and the man to talk to, is his deputy Chairat Sukbal. Now in his ninth year of political life, Mr Chairat is comfortable with his role and says working for the Municipality is never boring.

Monday 10 December 2012, 05:26PM


Mr Chairat was born 49 years ago in the ancient city of Nakorn Sri Thammarat, into a family of rice farmers.

A bright student, he did well enough in school to get into Ramkamhaeng University in Bangkok where he received a degree in public administration. He followed this up with an MBA from the then-new Phuket campus of Prince of Songkla University, graduating in 1987.

The following year he went into business, choosing Phuket as the place with most promise. Among the businesses he set up were the Pow Wow Restaurant and Pub, the Beach Resortel, Safari Discotheque and the Wyndham Resort & Spa Phuket.

But while many people might find such a life satisfying and profitable, Mr Chairat says for him it was not enough. He thought politics might be the answer, so he enrolled in the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), graduating with a master’s in public administration in 2001.

I went into politics because I believed I had the abilities and skills to help develop Patong. At least, I was someone who had had more experience and more opportunities than others.

Residents need moral people or officers to help them. Being public-spirited is important for a career in politics.

If I remained just a businessman, I would not be able to help anyone or do anything for people. Many businessmen don’t go into politics because they see it as difficult. They are happy just being rich.

But you can’t take your riches with you when you die, so I realised I should be working for the good of others.” In 2004 he ran successfully in elections for Patong Municipality.

Patong Municipality has ideas for around 100 projects but” – he giggles – “they have not been approved because we really don’t know where we will get the money [to carry them out].

Our annual budget is based on the population registered as living in Patong. So the government gives us a limited budget. Yet people who move from elsewhere to work and live – that is more than 100,000 people [who are not registered in Patong].”

It’s a problem, he says. For example, the garbage created by those 100,000 – added to that of the hundreds of thousands of tourists – has to be collected and sent to the incinerator in Phuket Town. “We have to spend a large part of our budget on this,” he explains.

We do get contributions from private businesses in Patong to support some of our projects.” The municipality, he says, also keeps in close contact with government departments and state enterprises such as the Highways Department, the Provincial Electricity Authority and the Expressway Authority of Thailand, which is to build the road tunnel under Patong Hill.

Our goal for Patong is clear. We have many projects for improving Patong, such as the floodwater drains under Phang Meuang Sai Kor Rd, a new klong for jet skis and 40 free WiFi points in the town.

Patong Municipality has more projects to do, but right now drainage is the priority. Once construction is complete, flood problem will not annoy people any more.

Every project has its problems. But my approach is, ‘Just start it today. If I don’t, it will never happen.’ Whenever there is a difficult situation, it takes patience and time to solve (business people are not patient). I have to draw on my experience and apply it to the problems.”

Some people criticise Patong Municipality and me. Some newspapers present us in a negative light. But we are all members of the same community. We should present a good image to tourists and foreigners.”

He admits reluctantly that Patong is not entirely without problems. One of these, for example, is police officers demanding kickbacks from local businesses. He stresses, “This is nothing to do with Patong Municipality and we do not receive any such money from local businesses.”

Asked about the Tiger fire, and suggestions that Municipality officials did not inspect the disco thoroughly enough when issuing licences, he said, “As for the entertainment place in Bangla Rd that will be reopen in the future, there are laws to control every step in construction. So I don’t think this will be a problem.

One thing I think everyone should remember was how fast Patong revived after the 2004 Asian Tsunami. Patong was back up in only six months.

This was because of the municipality’s good management. I have been invited many times to give speeches about how we achieved this.

Patong Municipality now has an announcement system, sirens and sign to prepare people for natural disasters.”

CCTV cameras let the authorities know where people are, and how many, and loudspeakers mounted below them allow the municipality to broadcast advice and warnings. “We can warn people immediately.”

Something else he has to deal with regularly is the complaints from honorary consuls on the island about taxi prices and services. “I would like them to compare local prices with the prices in their home countries,” he says.

There have also been unfavourable comparisons between taxi prices in Bangkok and Phuket. Mr Chairat defends the difference: “Phuket and Bangkok have different topologies. So how can they have the same prices?”

Patong is a tourist centre, but this does not mean that tourism should take priority over all else, Mr Chairat says. “Tourism is very important but education is the first priority,” he says.

If people are well educated, they will know the correct and wise way to solve problems.

Some children have talent but do not have the opportunity to study, so, Patong Municipality provides a development center for children, with teachers and trainers dedicated to this purpose. We also have study grants for municipal officials.”

He also wishes the media would be more restrained. “The media are part of the community; they need to be more careful about what they show when they publish news and photos, because this is our country, and foreigners may misunderstand.”

But overall Mr Chairat is happy with the way things are going in Patong and confident it is moving in the right direction. “I want Patong to be great place for tourism. Patong is like a reception hall for Thailand.

I am here as Deputy Mayor of Patong and I will continue to do my best for Patong.”

 

 

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