By Seksanti Kalayanawisut,
HUNDREDS OF Thais reeling under huge loans were smiling again yesterday when Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon and senior police officers handed them their land title deeds and other assets in ceremonies nationwide.
The assets had been seized from the debtors under “unfair loan contracts”, but later retrieved as part of police-brokered debt settlements. Many debtors vowed that they would never use their land as collateral for loans again.
Prawit, who oversees police affairs, presided over the ceremony titled “Keun Kwamsuk Hai Prachachon Lod Kwam Luamlam Khong Sangkhom” (Returning Happiness to the People, Reducing Inequality in Society) in the Muang district of Udon Thani province. Some 700 land-title deeds covering over 3,600 rai (576 hectare) and worth a total of Bt1.8 billion were returned at the event to 704 debtors from Udon Thani and 11 Northeast provinces.
Prawit said the government was determined to end inequality and had, so far, helped return assets worth Bt2.7 billion to their rightful owners.
He congratulated the informal debtors who participated in yesterday’s ceremony, and those who will be getting their land-title deeds covering more than 7,000 rai back soon.
“The government has made this a national agenda. This issue has never been successfully solved before. So please don’t put your land-title deeds in their [loan sharks] hands again, or they will do this to you again. Be careful of what you sign, and don’t be so desperate as to sign an empty paper,” Prawit advised.
Udon Thani resident Darunee Suriyapak, 61, who endured a decade-long ordeal of losing her land to a loan shark after borrowing money to fund a young relative’s job-hunting trip to Israel, said she and others like her were overjoyed that they had got their land back.
“It was a dark time before we got our title deeds back. Today is our happiest day,” she said, adding that her relative had not returned to Thailand. She said she had learned a lesson from the ordeal.
Nakhon Phanom resident Pranee Srimongkol, 53, who mortgaged her 800-square-metre plot to fund her children’s education, said that even though she has been paying regularly, she never seemed to have paid enough to get her land back. Her children have already completed their studies.
“I’m so happy I’ve got my land deed back,” she said tearfully, as she thanked everybody who made this possible.
Thung Sri Muang, a large open-air plaza downtown, was filled with 10,000 participants in the ceremony, which also featured live music.
Deputy Tourist Police chief Maj-General Surachate Hakpan said police had negotiated with loan sharks and taken over title deeds covering 285 rai of land worth Bt130 million and had handed them over to 135 informal debtors in Khon Kaen province last month. Success in that project led to Prawit ordering the police to offer similar aid to more victims, most of whom are poor farmers in the Northeast.
Also yesterday, the Provincial Police Region 3 – covering the eight lower Northeast provinces – presented land-title deeds covering 3,000 rai and worth nearly Bt900 million, along with 50 cars and motorcycles, back to some 900 informal debtors in Nakhon Ratchasima province.
In Bangkok, city police chief Lt-General Chanthep Sesawet presided over the return of assets to 12 informal debtors. He also reported that city police had arrested 69 loan sharks from July 29 to August 15 and had so far completed investigation into 32 of the 61 complaints about unfair loans filed with police since October last year.
The Provincial Police Region 1 hosted a ceremony in Pathum Thani province to return some 90 title deeds, some 80 motorcycles and other assets worth Bt85 million to 256 informal debtors. The Provincial Police Region 2 held a ceremony in Chon Buri province to return land-title deeds, 10 cars and 11 motorcycles to 42 people, while announcing the successful negotiation for a lower interest for 144 others.