LAST WEEK Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), issued an order that will result in cutting lengthy development procedures for some state projects so preparations for construction
That practice contradicts what is stated in the Environmental Promotion and Protection Act.
The preparation for a project before it has received an EIA could proceed with Cabinet endorsement.
It appeared Prayut realised the negative implications of the order after it was issued. He said he had instructed the government’s spokesperson team to explain the details of the order to the press for fear the public could misunderstand what the government was trying to achieve.
Government Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd stressed the point, saying the EIA and the environmental and health impact assessment (EHIA) would not be bypassed by the order.
“The government will not allow the economy to override the environment, and we will not take the EIA/EHIA as a ritual to rubber-stamp projects,” he said. “The PM as such has stressed that if the EIA/EHIA has failed, the concerned projects must be dropped accordingly,” Sansern told the Nation.
He pleaded for understanding of the government’s reasoning for trying to shore up sluggish economic growth via this order issuance.
But the public, who have experienced a long fight to improve the health of people and the environment, especially those working in civil sectors, are not convinced one bit.
They have been stepping up campaigns, not only against this latest order but the whole bunch of orders issued under the absolute power afforded the NCPO chief, Prayut, under Article 44 of the interim constitution.
The public scepticism about the latest order was aired at a public forum organised by major environmental networks yesterday.
Based on years of experience, Weerawat Theeraprasart, the former chairman of the EHIA-screening Independent Commission on Environment and Health, said assessing a project’s impact on the environment or people’s health could not run in parallel with a its preparation but must be a pre-condition of it being approved. That ensures projects are thoroughly scrutinised first to stop irreparable damage being done to the environment and/or people’s health, Weerawat said.
This particularly makes sense for the types of projects addressed in the order, ranging from transportation infrastructure to irrigation facilities, because these projects are large scale, and could have wide-ranging negative implications for the environment and/or people’s health, he said.
By being able to endorse projects before their EIA/EHIA reports are completed, the NCPO has given the economy propriety over the environment, and what will follow will be increased pressure coming from every direction to get the reports passed – even from the government, he said.
He said that would cause fierce confrontations occurring in designated development areas, something the military would not wish to see.
Besides what they said would be the wide-ranging negative implications for the environment and so-called peace assurance, environmental advocates believe the order is tantamount to the apparent enforcement against the will of the people.
The EIA and EHIA, they said, are the result of years fighting and a social evolution to generate room for public participation in development proposals and the thorough consideration of matters important to their lives.
With one order, they believe this long evolution and the will of the people have been side-tracked in a manner similar to what has happened to their democracy.
They said it would result growing calls for Article 44 to be scrapped.
I could not agree more after listening to the debate since the order was issued, and I see no need to justify my argument any more.
To ensure that conflicts will not break out over this decision, it is not too late for the government to take time out to contemplate the issue, or even correct what may have gone wrong, as the powers-that-be should care most about good governance for the sake of their own people.