By Somchai Samart
A public hearing has been held today in Songkhla province amid tight security, regarding the construction of the power plant in Thepa district.
Songkhla residents, religious leaders and other stakeholders have attended the forum, which will conclude tomorrow. Public opinion is being surveyed ahead of the construction of the coal power plant and its sea port.
Security has been reinforced around the event. Roads between Hatyai city and Pattani province have been closed due to safety concerns while the forum is taking place.
The first day of the forum focused on the construction of the coal power plant and its environmental impact, while tomorrow will center on the accompanying sea port.
“Police will be the main force in ensuring public order during the event. The military will play a supporting role,” Songkhla police chief Maj-General Amporn Bua-rabporn said on Sunday. He said 400 police officers were to be deployed today.
“Between 150 and 200 police officers will be on duty at the public-review venue,” he said.
The public review took place at the Tambon Pak Bang Administrative Organisation.
Amporn said police would enforce the law strictly if anyone was found to have mobilised others in a way that would wreak havoc.
Thamrong, citing his power under the Public Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act, ordered a ban on unauthorised gatherings in the vicinity of the public-review venue from Sunday to Tuesday. He said anyone who violates the ban or obstruct officials’ operation shall risk up to three months in jail, and/or a fine of up to Bt6,000. Thamrong’s move is widely seen as an effort to facilitate the public-review stage. He said on Sunday his focus was on the safety of the people because Thepha district is in an area prone to unrest.
The Network of Songkhla and Pattani People against Coal-Fired Power Plant had submitted a petition against Thamrong’s order.
“The order is illegitimate. It obstructs the process to gather people’s opinions and violates the principle of protecting people’s and community’s rights,” the petition said. The petition also demanded that Thamrong step down as chairman of the public-review stage, and that the public scoping, public forum and review for the project be cancelled.
“If we don’t get a satisfactory response, we will stage a rally,” said Ekkachai Issarata of the network. Banjong Nasae, another prominent member of the network, said the order reflected the governor’s bias against people who disagreed with the project.
“Apparently, he has tried to restrict the movement of the civil sector,” he said. He added that when Thamrong’s order was finally ruled as “illegitimate”, there would be grounds to nullify the validity of the public-review results.
Thamrong insisted that he was not biased, though he admitted he personally felt that the project should get the green light if the project’s owner, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, could generate benefits for locals and prevent adverse impacts.
“But definitely, I hope to see Thepha residents come out and express their opinions on the project. Don’t let outsiders rule the fate of the Thepha people,” he said.
Thamrong’s warning reflects his worry that some activists may bring outsiders to the public-review stage, which is reserved for the project’s stakeholders.
Egat assistant governor Pol Kongsua said the agency has coordinated with authorities in the area for security officials to maintain order on the days of the public hearing. The Fourth Army Commander and the Songkhla provincial governor have instructed full deployment of officials to ensure the event was held without violence and chaos, he said.
“There are no signs of difficulty,” he said.