Thai PM challenged over vanished forests

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's remark that elected governments had caused 8.6 million rai of forest in the North and Northeastern regions to be destroyed was just a mudslinging statement, former Democrat Party MP Watchara Phetthong said yesterday.

"It sounds like the PM is blaming democratic governments - but the true reason forests disappeared was that government officials did not do their duty. Some, like those from the Royal Forestry Department, the Department of National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation or the Department of Provincial Administration, sought vested interests,'' he said.

"Even in areas under the jurisdiction of the military during the period the PM was then Army Chief, the mountains turned into 'bald' mountains. Did the PM ever look into the problems?" he asked.

"Today [although] the PM has extra powers with Article 44, he has not done anything. Decent state officials have become blind and deaf for fear of getting into trouble,'' he said.

Another reason the country's water resources had turned into bald mountains was that a giant conglomerate lures poor farmers to grow corn to be used as animal feed. This has caused natural disasters like floods, landslide and drought, he said.

"Politicians and senior officials encroach upon reserve forests, water sources, mangrove forests and the Sor Por Kor land. How can the Land Department issue land title deeds for them? The PM must order a check of all plots and exercise Article 44 to confiscate the land,'' he said.

Watchara also urged Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Borwornsak Uwanno to incorporate in the charter draft a rule that MPs, Senators, ministers must not be involved in forest encroachment, either directly or indirectly through nominees.

The politician said he served as a House committee spokesman for two terms and knew that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's re-forestation funds each year reached tens of billions of baht. "This amount of money could grow trees ten times the area of forests in Thailand. If the PM dares not exercise power, he will not be different from the people he accuses,'' Watchara said.

The outspoken politician added that forest encroachment also took place during the Prayut government. "If he does not believe me, get into a helicopter and look at Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai,'' he said.