PM must stick to his promise

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha reiterated the country's commitment to sustainable development to representatives of the G77, a coalition of developing countries in the United Nations, at the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.

As the current chairman of G77, he urged member countries to do the same and work together to promote sustainable development.

Last September, the premier also told the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York that he supported pro-people, inclusive development that respects the rule of law.

Now he must prove true to his words.

To protect the environment and community health, the law requires infrastructure and public utilities projects to pass an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

On Monday, Gen Prayut ordered the use of special powers through Section 44 to waive this crucial legal requirement, allowing state authorities to look for contractors without having to wait for an EIA approval.

Earlier this year, the regime also used Section 44 to suspend enforcement of zoning and building control ordinances in Special Economic Zones.

State authorities defend the use of Section 44 as a necessary measure to cut red tape because the EIA process takes too long, which increases investment costs unnecessarily.

Such a defence is lame. The EIA is already controversial. It is common knowledge that hired guns are used to produce positive studies.

Allowing state authorities to proceed with the contractor hiring process without waiting for the final study will compromise the EIA further.

The EIA requirement for infrastructure projects did not come out of thin air. It was a hard-won legal milestone following massive destruction of the environment and community health from top-down schemes.

Together with a law that requires public consent for those schemes, many top-down megaprojects that state authorities want to force down people's throats have been put on hold.

Among them are the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten and Mae Wong dams that will affect forest areas, as well as the Pak Para deep-sea port and coal-fired power plants that will destroy marine ecology and the local tourism industry in the South.

Previous civilian governments were also supportive of these schemes pushed by offialdom. But they retreated when faced with fierce opposition from local communities and environmentalists. The mandarins are now using the regime's absolute power to change the name of the game.

According to the regime's latest S44 order, the waiver applies to "urgent" state projects on irrigation, transport, natural disaster prevention, public health and housing.

It is clear the regime intends to go ahead with those schemes despite local opposition.

Ironically, the same day Gen Prayut told the G77 representatives of his commitment to sustainable development, civil society and grassroots movements nationwide came out strongly to condemn his order that bypasses the rule of law and betrays his sustainable development promise.

Last year, Gen Prayut urged the international community at the United Nations to make the right choice. "We can continue on the path of rampant consumerism and maximise growth at all costs. Or we can choose to live sustainably, focusing on quality, moderation and balance in our lives. We can choose to respect nature, rather than viewing it as merely a commodity to be exploited. Our actions today will determine the survival of future generations," he said.

The right choice for him now is to revoke the order and stop pushing through environmentally harmful projects. If not, the world will see his words as merely empty rhetoric.

Source URL: Bangkok Post