September 25, 2008

Thai Environmental Activists Fault Plan for Private Investment in Parks

Text of report in English by Thai newspaper The Nation website on 25 September

[Report by Pongphon Sarnsamak: "Concern over parks plan"]

A group of environmental activists is urging the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to revise its plan to allow the private sector to invest in national parks.

A representative of the group, who wanted to be unnamed, has submitted 239 signatures collected by the website from naturalists and environmentalists who have great concern about the future massive exploitation of natural resources in national parks if the ministry implements its plan to allow the private sector to invest in and manage national parks across country.

The group called on Caretaker Natural Resources and Environment Minister Anongwan Thepsuthin to stop this plan, during a public open seminar which was held by the National parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department. About 250 stakeholders including the heads of national parks, environmental experts and naturalist attended the seminar.

They want the ministry to conduct public hearings to seek opinions from various groups about this plan due to concern about massive exploitation and deforestation of natural resources.

The government should provide an adequate budget to enable national parks to conserve the natural resources and environment instead focus on protecting the benefits of the private sector, they said.

Last July, the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department initiated a plan to allow the private sector to invest in and manage the intensive-use zones in national parks. The department has now conducted a survey in 24 areas of seven national parks along the Andaman Sea which have potential for investment and management by the private sector.

According to the report of the meeting of the committee to promote private-sector investment and management in intensive-use areas in national parks, chaired by the department's deputy director- general Vichit Pattanakosai, the Banphu Lakhon group has submitted a proposal to the committee asking for permission to invest in a five- star hotel in the Auo Moh Lae area of Tarutao Island. The proposal was rejected due to incomplete documentation.

Meanwhile, Anongwan, who becomes industry minister today, said she did not know about this plan and no officials had reported it to her. "I know only that someone had the idea for the private sector to be involved in the management of intensive-use areas in national parks," she said. "If they want to do that they must follow the law and regulations," she added.

Vichit said he did not report to the ministry because the plan was not yet finalised. It needed more public opinions, he said.

However, he said this plan had been initiated because of the increasing tourist numbers visiting national park areas and national parks across the country had insufficient accommodation for tourists, particularly foreign tourists. The ministry also lacked the manpower and capacity to manage the intensive-use areas in the parks.

The Seub Nakhasathien Foundation's secretary-general, Sasin Chalermlap, argued that many national parks have the capacity to manage the intensive-use areas to service tourists, such as Tak province's Klong Wang Jao national park which he said had succeeded in developing to serve tourists.

Surachet Chettamas, lecturer at Kasetsart University's Faculty of Forestry, said the department should renovate its infrastructure to make it more comfortable for tourists and friendly to the environment instead of allowing the private sector to build new accommodation which would affect natural resources.

The ministry should also consider the carrying capacity of each national park area, he added.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, head of the Faculty of Fisheries at Kasetsart University and a member of the national parks committee, said he disagreed with the proposal and raised his concern about the selection of private companies who might join the plan. He said private companies should produce environmental impact assessment reports when asking for permission from the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning before conducting business in national park areas.

He was worried about the audit system to monitor the use of national park areas and said that the process must be transparent.

Originally published by The Nation website, Bangkok, in English 25 Sep 08.

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