Water can bring fire, or so Plodprasob Surassawadee has learned. The heat has been turned up on the science minister, who is charged with overseeing floodrelief operations, after his statement on TV on Thursday evening caused widespread panic among Bangko
To be fair to Plodprasob, everyone was already jumpy. When he said flood water as high as one metre could be heading toward several northern Bangkok districts, all hell broke loose. It turned out to be a false alarm. The repair work on the Ban Prao floodgate in Pathum Thani’s Sam Kok district was not going to be finished on time, and some gushing water apparently made him throw caution to the wind. His announcement that people in those districts should start moving their belongings was picked up immediately by social media networks and the rest is history.
Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, who is above Plodprasob in the floodfighting chain of command, had to come out to fix the damage, telling the media that no evacuation order had been issued, or even suggested. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday defended Plodprasob’s “good intention”, but the government conspicuously stated that public announcements concerning the flooding were to come from Pracha alone. To add to the tension between the government and the media, the Information and Communications Technology Ministry warned that rumourmongers could face a jail term, and there was talk of press releases having to have Pracha’s signature on them.
So, in the space of two weeks, public communications responsibility has been shifted from Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit to Plodprasop, and then to Justice Minister Pracha. Yingluck herself did not look comfortable when she addressed the nation on the flood disaster on TV.
More trouble may lie ahead. Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who is from the Democrat Party, was apparently so upset by Plodprasob’s action on Thursday evening that he told Bangkokians to listen to flood updates concerning the capital from him only. Whether the government’s “Listen to Pracha only” policy will create jurisdictional or political problems remains to be seen, although, technically, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is supposed to be part of the government’s antiflood command.
More confusion emerged yesterday following what appeared to be a statement from the command centre that 17 Bangkok districts are now classified as “disaster areas”. Early in the evening, Pracha denied knowledge of the statement, which bore all the marks of the command centre. It could be yet another misunderstanding, but for Bangkokians, who are already on edge, it only meant continued anxiety and stress. Still, it could be a small price to pay considering what happened to people living around the capital.