Tuesday, May 30, 2006

thailand -- only too happy to help launder money from regimes in burma and north korea

letters to The Nation

Where did North Korea get the fertiliser it sold to us?

South Korea donates fertiliser to North Korea as a part of its cooperation to assist with food shortages in the North. This activity is handled by a government firm named the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra).

Kotra recently claimed that North Korea exported a total of 25,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser with a value of US$5 million [Bt191 million] to Thailand in 2005.

Kotra reported it had requested cooperation from Thailand in disclosing the type of fertiliser imported from North Korea, but the Thai government has so far refused to provide any details.

I believe that Thailand should immediately take some action to clarify its position on this matter.



Saturday, May 27, 2006

massive flood caused by illegal teak cutting; poached logs threaten to overflow flood dam in Phrae Thailand

... provincial governor denies their existence while foresty workers brought in from Bangkok struggle to remove the logs, hoping to prevent another man-made disaster

The Nation:

Race against time to remove logs

Forestry workers yesterday began retrieving wood and timber debris from Mae Man reservoir in Phrae, to ward off the threat of a water overflow which could flatten downstream villages. Logs, suspected of being felled by poachers, were carried by strong water currents from the Paya valley to the reservoir, where they became trapped. The reservoir holds around 18 million cubic metres of water.

Tourism in Thailand -- an unregulated industry notoriously awash in the lowest forms of human garbage

from letters to the Nation

Unlike other tourism agencies, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has no enforcement powers


Sagittarius's letter makes some admirable points in pleading for improvements in the behaviour of those who intimidate or cheat tourists. He also rightly pleads for a clean-up of tourist sites and an end to the infamous double-pricing of tourists. After all, visitors who feel they have been fleeced will not only decide not to return, but also encourage others not to come.

The pursuit of these goals is something few could argue about. However, it needs to be clearly understood that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is primarily a government marketing agency, promoting Thailand's tourist industry abroad and at home, through often well-hidden resort offices. Unlike the government tourist organisations of Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, the TAT has no enforcement powers to redress the complaints of tourists who find themselves at the end of dishonest deals. The TAT, of course, does license travel agencies to provide guidance for tourists.

Neither does the TAT have any power or willingness to ensure good environmental standards at tourist sites. Those are issues for provincial governors and tambon heads.

Thailand has laws on the statute books for almost every offence, but such is the tolerance (and some might say lethargy) of the law-enforcement agencies and local authorities that tourists remain alone and at the mercy of the unscrupulous.

International standards, where they are present, are set by the better representations of the private sector, not that pathetic excuse for a government in Bangkok. It's sad that despite the presence of mobile phones, Mercedes cars and five-star resorts, Thailand remains seriously behind the most of its competitors in the way it maintains its tourist assets.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Uttaradit landslide -- another case of mai pen rai

A preventable disaster repeated

Govt incompetence and a lack of simple public awareness result in yet another round of needless deaths

At press time, 30 people were confirmed dead and some 100 others reported missing in the aftermath of the catastrophic mudslides and flash-floods that struck in the northern province of Uttaradit in the early hours of Tuesday. And the death toll is expected to rise, with rescue workers continuing to search for more bodies of victims trapped underneath debris or tonnes of mud that was swept down the mountain slopes to engulf low-lying communities.

The Civil Defence Agency of the Interior Ministry, military units and relief organisations all rushed to the affected areas to provide assistance to thousands of residents who were made homeless by the tragedy. Utmost attention must be paid to helping these people come to grips with their grief over the loss of their loved ones and property, pull themselves back up, rebuild their homes and resume their lives to the greatest extent possible. And the emergency relief must be followed up with more comprehensive assistance, in order to ensure that the survivors are able to recover from their horrific ordeal. The post-emergency assistance could involve resettlement to safer ground, so as to avoid any more problems with mudslides in the event the ravaged areas are deemed unsafe for further human settlement.

Meanwhile, the Mineral Resources Department made the shocking revelation that most of those who perished in Uttaradit could have been saved if only local officials had followed existing precautionary safety measures stipulated for incidents of torrential rainfall and ordered the evacuation of communities located at the foot of mountains or in valleys. The department reported that all of the areas affected by mudslides and flash-floods in that province had previously been designated areas that were prone to natural disaster. And local officials had apparently received instructions in the past in regard to following clear-cut early-warning procedures, including a contingency plan for evacuating residents from high-risk areas.

The safety precautions involved community leaders and local officials closely monitoring rainfall in areas prone to mudslides and flash-floods. An early warning must be issued and evacuation under way as soon as rainfall measures more than 60mm in a 24-hour period. Rainfall surpassing 100mm in 24 hours warrants community leaders and local officials to alert the district office to prepare for a rescue operation.

It soon became clear that these safety procedures were not followed. The Meteorological Department said up to 330mm of rain was recorded in the 24 hours preceding Uttaradit's mudslides and flash-floods.

Basically, mudslides are made up of rock, earth, uprooted trees and other debris flowing down a slope like liquid. They can occur on almost any terrain given the right conditions of soil, rainfall and slope angle. In this country, mudslides are usually triggered by heavy rains and flash-floods. Geophysical conditions and human factors like deforestation and poorly managed land use on mountain slopes or in valleys combine to make mudslides possible and often with devastating results, as seen on Tuesday morning.

The Uttaradit disaster is reminiscent of a similar one that befell Phetchabun's Lom Sak district that killed more than 100 people in August 2001. And an even deadlier one in 1988 in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Phipun district, in which 317 people perished.

Following the Phetchabun mudslide, the Mineral Resources Department drew up a detailed map of disaster-prone areas in 51 provinces throughout the Kingdom, complete with detailed information about specific locations, names of villages, districts and provinces and precautionary measures that must be taken by community leaders and local officials.

The Uttaradit disaster should serve as a reminder that having good preventive measures against natural disaster and contingency plans for emergencies is not in itself enough. The Mineral Resources Department, in collaboration with other government agencies, should train community leaders and local officials so they are able to ensure that all standard procedures are followed strictly and consistently - and with no exceptions. Provincial and district-level officials must provide sufficient oversight to make sure that local officials and other leaders always do what they are supposed to.

The provincial officials responsible for this man-made disaster should be arrested and taken straight to jail. Laziness, corruption, and deft manipulation by the local poltical mafia of both rural ignorance and the outmoded concept of 'mai pen rai' are the root causes of this catastrophe.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Koh Samet -- a paradise only in your guidebook

A middle class Thai perspective on the asshole circus one can expect visiting Koh Samet. The only thing that makes this letter unusual is that it was written by a Thai.

from letters to The Nation

Re: "Tourists charged more but get little for their money", Letters, May 21.

Having read Sandy Shores' comments on Koh Samet, I feel compelled to add my twopence.

I took my staff on a trip to Rayong recently, and we had a wonderful holiday. However, when we visited Koh Samet for a day trip, my gentle staff from Chiang Mai were horrified at the unacceptable language and verbal abuse they encountered by unsmiling Koh Sametians. Service was poor, bad language was used, insults were flung around, and we also overheard innocently passing farangs being insulted by shopkeepers and harassed by officials, using most improper language. Comments such as, "Go home if you want to bargain" and, "We don't need your money, we have many tourists here every day," and general insults as to the shapes, race and looks of farangs walking past.

There was not one smiling face that we saw. In short, this is an island apparently inhabited by people with no manners. I would urge whoever is in charge to instil some etiquette lessons as well as basic business principles to these greedy islanders who live off tourists whom they feel only contempt for. Needless to say, we will not be visiting again.

On our boat ride back, I heard one of our graphic designers shake her head and say, "Mai khao jai, this is not Thailand. These are not Thais." Sadly, they are.

Pim Kemasingki

Chiang Mai