Pollution? Taxi driver woes? Thai junta hears it all

It's A Monday morning at the Government House, the office for generations of Thai prime ministers. While much of the compound slowly wakes from its weekend stupor, Gate No. 4 bustles with human traffic.

A group of motorcycle taxi drivers, recognisable in their bright orange vests, stream out of the compound. They had turned up to complain about being edged out of their operating spot by a rival group of drivers.

A neatly suited lawyer stands patiently by the iron gate, waiting to be joined by people advocating for the closure of a polluting rubbish dump.

Minutes later, some lottery ticket sellers bearing roses sidle up, wanting help to make a living.

Gate No. 4 has hardly seen a quiet day since Thailand's military junta declared it one of the channels for the public to send their complaints, requests and tip-offs.

The junta, which goes by the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), launched the feedback channels last month, asking people to contact it via a dedicated website, post-office box, telephone hotline or to simply walk into the Government House.

The NCPO, in its two-month progress report since seizing power on May 22, says it has received more than 26,000 complaints and opinions, out of which it claims 86 per cent of issues were resolved.

Most of the opinions were on how to reform the country and bureaucracy, as well as achieve political reconciliation.

Most of the complaints were about "society and welfare", the report said. They included consumer complaints related to cars, tourist businesses, damaged buildings, as well as other goods and services, it said.

"It's just about anything under the sun," said Dr Jesda Tivayanond, a member of the NCPO's communications team.

"Some people call about the price of agricultural products. Some people call about taxi drivers not behaving well."

The junta hears them out and passes the cases to the relevant departments to follow up, he said.

Petitioners interviewed were hopeful that the junta, wielding absolute powers under martial law, would address their grievances swiftly.

Under the recently introduced provisional Constitution, which will be in place until elections in about a year, the junta will exist alongside an interim Cabinet, and hold special powers to intervene should national security be threatened.

Motorcycle taxi driver Amornsak Kandnin, 36, says the NCPO's "special authority" prompted his group to lodge a petition.

"I'm not 100 per cent sure they can help," he told The Straits Times, "but since they announced we can lodge any petition, we will use our rights."

Civil society activists say it is still too early to judge if the NCPO's open call for petitions would lead to actual solutions on the ground.

Ms Penchom Saetang, director of environmental group Ecological Alert and Recovery, says: "Some problems can be solved by absolute power. But for other matters... it's more complicated as they involve many stakeholders."

The NCPO, she says, could do better by consulting more with civil society members instead of relying heavily on the advice of bureaucrats and businessmen.


This article was first published on July 31, 2014.
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