When the last straw falls

opinion February 22, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

The Bangkok sisters ‘overreacted’ to a pickup blocking their driveway – until we heard the reasons why

The drama over vehicles illegally parking in front of a Bangkok family’s house is just the latest example of everyday bickering among people who have to live together in this big congested city. Sometimes these confrontations lead to violence, occasionally even loss of life. Bangkok residents suffer, often on a daily basis, from problems ranging from dog droppings and loud noise to motorcycles on the footpaths – and finding cars blocking their driveways.

City regulations prohibit all of this. The fine for leaving a parked vehicle blocking someone’s street access, and for riding or parking a vehicle on the sidewalk, can reach Bt5,000. The problem is not lack of laws – it is lax and irregular enforcement of the laws. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) last year encouraged residents to report violations of city regulations, for which they got a cut of any fine imposed. But the campaign has proved ineffective and violations remain common.

Complaints to police or the BMA officials typically result in temporary solutions and the headaches soon reappear. One excuse proffered is that there aren’t enough police officers or city inspectors in Bangkok to deal with neighbourhood problems. In rare cases, the problems make it to court, as happened with the three middle-aged sisters in Prawet district at the centre of this week’s controversy. Five markets surround their home. 

In 2009 they petitioned the Central Administrative Court, accusing the city’s governor, the district director and the BMA of failing to enforce laws that restrict market activities. That court ruled in the sisters’ favour, but the verdict was overturned in 2013 by the Supreme Administrative Court, which ordered the case reviewed. Legal battles are indeed time-consuming and expensive, and thus most people avoid them.

This week the sisters told reporters gathered in front of their house that parked vehicles have repeatedly blocked their driveway and those of their neighbours in the 10 years since the markets opened. The markets have their own parking areas, but shoppers seeking to dodge the parking fees just pull up in front of nearby homes. Usually the handbrake is on, preventing the vehicles being pushed aside. The homeowners have to wait until the vehicle owner returns before they can get on with their own lives – and on several occasions they’ve been in emergency situations.

That’s what happened this past Sunday, when the sisters used an axe and a spade to damage a vehicle blocking their gate. They claimed that, for all the many instances of frustration and anger over the years, this was the first time they’d resorted to violence. The vehicle owner filed a police complaint seeking Bt50,000 in damages. 

The sisters deserve to face criticism and legal action, but there is also ample room for sympathy, particularly after they described what they’d experienced over the past decade. Unlike some other cases, this confrontation fortunately did not get out of control and result in injury or worse. The authorities responsible for such matters should not allow violators of laws and regulations to continue causing suffering in this way. At the same time, the offended parties have to be absolutely stoic in controlling their emotions. It’s all too easy to see how those who deal with recurring problems again and again for years could eventually snap. All it takes is the last straw.