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Govt defends junta order to push development projects

Mar 11. 2016
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THE JUNTA’S latest order looks set to speed up 62 projects as it allows key preparations for implementation pending a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA).
Various government figures yesterday chorused that the order, issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) on Tuesday, would deliver benefits to the public and the government without a threat to the environment. 
“The order allows preparations on other fronts of the projects to go ahead while the EIA is being prepared. If we wait until the EIA is completed first, the development of the country will be delayed,” said Raweewan Bhuridej, secretary-general of the Office of Natural Resources and Environment Policy and Planning (Onep). 
She added that before the NCPO issued the order, there had already been serious discussions on which types of projects should enjoy a speed-up. 
Of 35 project types that need to undergo the EIA process, just five types are covered by the NCPO order. Planned by either a government agency or a state enterprise, these projects involve rail-based transport systems, ports, motorways, highways and state hospitals. 
Natural Resources and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Kasemsun Chinnavaso said these projects would be able to call bids and work on their designs during the EIA process. 
“This way, the projects may be completed two years before sooner [they are approved]. In addition, construction costs may be lower,” he said. 
He said there was no point in demonising the NCPO for the order. 
“A specialist panel will continue to do its work in reviewing EIAs. There is no pressure on them,” he said. 
Environmental groups, however, are not convinced. Yesterday, the number of environment organisations calling for the scrapping of the order rose to 56 from 46 a day earlier. 
Sonthi Kotchawat, secretary-general of the Thai Environmental Health Association, who is also an academic in the environment field, said that with the NCPO order in effect, the budget for the minimisation of environment impacts could not be increased during the EIA review process any more. 
“If the government has already selected a bidder at an agreed price, who will agree to raise the budget?” he said. 
Natural Resources and Environment Ministry spokesman Suphot Tovichakchaikul explained that the NCPO order did not allow state agencies or state enterprises to sign any legally binding contracts with private firms prior to the completion of the EIA process. 
“So people can rest assured that if the EIA has not yet won the green light, no construction can start,” he said. 
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith assured institutional investors that the country’s infrastructure projects would go ahead as planned.
Speaking at the CLSA Asean Forum, Arkhom said the government would complete the criteria for the projects’ asset transfers to the Thailand Future Fund next month. 
The fund was established by the government and is used to raise funds from investors to finance selected infrastructure projects. 

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