Thai govt pays heed to critics, revising rules on selling land to foreigners
The government will look into proposals to improve the draft directive on selling land to wealthy foreigners, Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Tuesday.
He said the Interior Ministry’s draft directive is being scrutinised by the Council of State, the government’s legal advisory arm.
Wissanu added that the council will be urged to consider people’s concerns and apply suggestions that will make the draft “as perfect as possible”.
The deputy PM, who is regarded as a legal expert, said the review will focus on four key issues:
• Investment: The draft specifies that a foreigner must invest at least 40 million baht to be eligible for the purchase of land and houses. However, Wissanu said critics want the government to increase the amount.
• Length of time for investment: The draft directive requires foreigners to maintain the investment for at least three years, but critics are calling for a longer period.
• Resale of land: Critics say that foreigners should be prohibited from reselling the land they hold in bits and pieces. The draft allows them to sell the 1-rai of land in parts until the entire quota is used up.
• Purchasing clusters of land: Critics say that foreigners should be prohibited from buying plots next to each other because it would put a large cluster of land under foreign ownership. The draft does not prohibit this.
The Cabinet approved the draft directive on October 25 and has forwarded it to the Council of State for scrutiny before it is published in the Royal Gazette. Once published, the directive will be in effect for five years.
When the policy was announced, critics and the opposition cried foul, accusing the government of putting the country on sale and betraying the motherland.
The issue has stirred up nationalism, with many critics expressing concern that foreigners will buy up land and make Thais, especially farmers, landless.
Wissanu said on Tuesday that the law permitting the sale of land to foreigners had actually been enacted in 2002.
He explained that since the situation has changed since 2002, the government decided to revise it and use it to attract foreign investment and highly skilled foreigners to work in the country.
Wissanu added that as of now, only eight foreigners hold 1 rai (400 square wah or 1,600 square metres) of land under this provision. However, he said, there are many foreigners holding some 100 to 200 square wah of land under other conditions.
“Every time this law was taken up for consideration, it sparked allegations of national betrayal. I have seen it since the government of General Chatichai Choonhavan [1988 to 1991], when the bill was withdrawn,” Wissanu said.
He said the Thaksin Shinawatra government (1998-2006) managed to enact the law and this government was simply revising and improving it.
“It’s with the Council of State, which can still change it,” he added.
Krisada Chinavicharana, permanent secretary for Finance Ministry, said the selling of land to foreigners had been proposed and considered after the 1997 Tom Yum Kung financial crisis. He said the proposal aimed to draw foreign investment and experts to work in the country.
The initial law required foreigners to hold their investment for five years, but the new draft was reducing this to three years. However, Krisada admitted that he did not know the reason behind this time reduction.
He added that conditions for employing foreigners should also be considered in a bid to stimulate Thailand’s job market.
“I’ve not seen the draft yet, but judging by news reports, it’s not worrisome. The conditions are clear,” he said.