Thai junta scraps regulations on industries, power plants

Thai junta leader has used his absolute power to scrap regulations on the construction of power plants and factories in a bid to secure energy needs and woo investors.    

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, on Wednesday, 20 January 2016, issued National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Orders No. 3/2016 and 4/2016, using his authority under Section 44 of the Interim Constitution, which gives him and security officers absolute power to maintain national security.

NCPO Order No. 3/2016 exempts the construction of buildings in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) from the regulatory framework of the 1975 Town and City Planning Act and other regulations on buildings. The order also takes away from local government the authority to impose regulations on construction in SEZs.    

Similarly, NCPO Order No. 4/2016 exempts all kinds of power plants, water treatment plants, garbage disposal and collection plants, recycling plants, and gas processing plants from regulations under the Town and City Planning Act.

The authorities said that the orders are necessary to secure Thailand’s increasing energy demand in the future.

“There are legal obstacles. Therefore, it is necessary to remove these obstacles for the greater advantage of national economic development in order to prepare the nation for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC),” according to NCPO Order No. 4/2016.

The orders quickly drew criticism from many environmental groups and legal experts.

According to Green News TV, Sunee Chairos, Vice-President of the Law Reform Commission of Thailand, the orders have rendered useless the new town planning bill, which would allow people and civil society groups more participation in making decisions on the development of their cities.

“These NCPO orders are very dangerous,” Green News TV quoted Sunee as saying. “The question now is whether Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) will be scrapped as well.”

Dawan Chantarahassadi, a community rights advocate and environmentalist from Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH), said that although Announcement No. 7/2015 of the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MNRE) exempted the construction of waste-to-energy plants from the EIA process, the Town and City Planning Act still posed obstacles. This, however, has changed with NCPO Orders No. 3/2016 and 4/2016.

According to Dr Raweewan Bhuridej, Secretary-General of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP), however, the EIA process will still be required for the construction of power plants and factories despite the enactment of the new NCPO Orders.

In November 2015, Thai military government agreed to amend the Town and City Planning Act to deregulate industry in city areas.   

Atchaka Sribunruang, Minister of Industry, revealed at that time that the Cabinet had given the green light to the Ministry to amend the 1975 Town and City Planning Act to be more ‘flexible’ in order to facilitate industry.

The Minister said that the Cabinet agreed to give the task to the Ministry of Interior, adding that the Interior Ministry would study further policies which could be implemented to give more incentives for investors in accordance with a report on major industries in 34 provinces throughout the country compiled by the Industry Ministry.

Atchaka revealed that the Act will be amended primarily to make ‘land zoning’ in city and residential areas clearer and allow the operation of more factories of certain industries currently prohibited from city areas under the Town and City Planning Act.

Earlier, the Thai News Agency reported that Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, the junta’s chief economic advisor, said in mid-2015 that the Cabinet had approved a plan to curtail the Environmental Assessment Impact (EIA) process in PPP (Public and Private Partnership) mega projects.

The proposal aimed to reduce the time for conducting EIAs from about 22 months currently to only nine months.

Somkid said that the plan would increase the speed and efficiency of the process of giving public concessions to private companies.

He added that under the current system the EIA process has to be completed before contracts can be signed with private companies, but under the new proposal both steps can proceed at the same time with the participation of all relevant public agencies.