University study excluded public participation

They complained that a study team from King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Lat Krabang (KMITL) had conducted an improper public hearing on the project.

People from local communities and academics denounced the KMITL study team, saying that people's right to decide on the project had been violated.

They said the study team had set up a public hearing without providing essential information on the project and also claimed to have support of riverside communities, which were yet to approve the project.

River Assembly, a newly formed group of 42 organisations, arranged a boat tour to reveal the government's mega project "Chao Phraya for All" - to build the 57-kilometre promenade along the river in Bangkok, which they said would destroy the identity of riverside communities and damage the river forever.

Deputy rector of Thammasat University Parinya Thaewanarumitkul said his major concern was the "overly short" study by KMITL. He said the public hearing was improper, as the study team had not provided essential details of the project for communities to consider and did not really hear the people's voices.

"The Constitution has secured the people's right to decide on the project that will affect them since the 1997 Constitution. The interim charter also assured that the previous rights of the people were protected as well," Parinya explained.

"Therefore, it is the people's right to get full information on the promenade project and have a chance to decide on the project."

He said it would be a violation of Article 67 Section 2 of the Constitution, if the project went ahead without real consent from affected people - or the project would be void.

The representative from Bang O community in Bang Phlat district, Adul Yothasmutr, said the KMITL team went to his community twice, but both visits only advertised the project and did not present details on the promenade plans to the local people.

"They claimed that people in the community had already approved the project, but actually people do not know what exactly was to be built and the community still did not have a conclusion [on which] to approve the project," Adul said.

He said the KMITL team advising the Bang O community agreed on the project because it was the politeness of local people that did not speak out openly during their visit. They interpreted the people's soft stance toward the project as approval.

"We do not want a large structure to be built on our community waterfront, as it will destroy the heritage of the Muslim community whose lives closely depend on the river since they migrated from Ayutthaya 250 years ago," he said.

On the other side, the project's spokeswoman Antika Sawadsri said the reason the team did not disclose all the plans and detail was because some of the plans still had not received approval from the executives.

"We have plans and details for the promenade project but they are not finalised yet, especially for the part of the project that passes the local communities because it is very complicated to design a promenade to suit the community," Antika said.

"We did not say all the riverfront communities agreed with our project - but we are working hard with them to make sure the promenade will suit them the most," she said.

The KMITL team's opponents said the group had already set a goal to build the promenade without any additional plans for the people to choose from.

Antika explained that the government had a Terms Of Reference (TOR) to develop the riverside area and the team had been studying this TOR.

However, Parinya suggested the KMITL team had benefits to be studied for the project. KMITL, he said, should not align itself with the government side, but be a mediator between the government and the people.

Source URL: The Nation