Environmentalists condemn junta for bypassing EIA process

The anti-Thaksin civil society has condemned the junta government for issuing orders that intentionally benefit big construction projects which affect locals, and has urged people to use the upcoming referendum as a bargaining chip against the junta.
 
Academics and civil society state that NCPO Orders 3/2016, 4/2016 and 9/2016, which were issued using the power of Article 44 of 2014 interim charter, are turning Thailand into a capitalists’ paradise. These orders deprive people of their community rights and national resources on the ground and will destroy the local environment and businesses.
 
On Friday, 18 March 2016, Thammasat University, in cooperation with the People’s Network for Energy Reform and People’s Network for Sustainable Development, hosted a public forum on the People’s Vision on Community Rights and Environment: Urban Planning.
 
The forum brought together academics, politicians and representatives from various civil society organizations, including those opposing power plants, mines and deep sea ports.
 
Sanchai Sutipanwihan, an environmental expert from Mahidol University, said that normally the authorities have to take at least 75 days to do an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of any government project before submitting it to the Cabinet for approval. 
 
However, NCPO Order 9/2016 allows the junta to immediately approve government projects relating to transportation, health care, public disaster management and residential buildings, and then do an EIA later on, reasoning that it will help reducing red tape. 
 
“The order actually aims to eliminate the entire EIA process”, said Sanchai.   
 
Taweesak Inkwang, from a group opposing a waste-to-energy plant in Chiang Rak Yai Subdistrict, said that Chiang Rak Yai is an agriculture-based and high density community which supplies water for the Metropolitan Water Authority. Therefore, the power plant will have an immense effect not only on local people but also Bangkok as a whole.
 
However, NCPO Order 4/2016 exempts the project from urban planning regulations and allows the state to build a waste-to-energy plant in any area, regardless of the surrounding community. 
 
Under the authority of Order 4/2016, the project was approved despite a local protest and the land has already been prepared for the project.
 
“If you build it, we will burn it down” Taweesak aggressively stated.  
 
Somnuek Jongmeewasin, an environmentalist, said that Sa Kaeo Province is suffering from NCPO Order 3/2016 which will establish Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in ten border sites. 
 
Somnuek said the Order obstructed local people from implementing the Green Sa Kaeo project, a project to construct environmentally friendly factories operated by local people
 
He claimed that even though the junta reasoned that this Order aims to stimulate the local economy, in fact most of the workers in the factories will be Cambodian and the raw materials used in the factories will be imported from Cambodia.
 
“Local people will not get any practical benefit from the Order. All they will get is more and more pollution and this will occur in the other nine SEZs,” Somnuek added. 
 
Anti-Thaksin wrath against the junta.
 
Most of the speakers and members of the audience criticized the junta very harshly despite the fact that many formerly participated in pro-military, anti-Thaksin Shinawatra rallies of the People's Alliance for Democracy, active around 2005-2009, and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, active around 2013-2014.  These movements paved the way for the 2006 and 2014 military coups.
 
Boonyuen Siritum, a former Samut Songkhram senator, warned the junta not to forget the fact that it was because of the people’s movements that the junta was able to take power.
 
“We use to call the former PM ‘the dumb girl’ but I’m not sure whether we have a dumber PM or not, since our lives have more suffering than during the dumb girl’s government.” said Boonyuen. 
 
She added that, apart from NCPO Orders 3/2016, 4/2016 and 9/2016, the junta also has to revoke the notorious Article 44 of the interim constitution. 
 
Decharut Sukkumnoed, an economist from Kasetsart University, said that the junta intentionally removed the protection of community rights from the draft constitution. This will allow the junta to control local natural resources.
 
He hoped that the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) will fix this problem before the referendum.  Otherwise, the people will reject it.
 
“I’m not encouraging you [the audience] to turn down the draft in the referendum. I’m just saying that we can do that. It’s our right. It’s in our power.” Decharut suggested. 
 
 
Decharut showing the layout of Pak Bara deep sea port project. The project has been repeatedly rejected due to its failure to pass EIA standards. However, with NCPO Order 9/2016, the project will be approved easily, said Decharut.