January 10, 2014 00:00 By JUTARAT TIPNUMPA,
A judge at the Supreme Administrative Court recommended yesterday that the court should order complete public hearings for all of the project modules under the Bt350-billion water-management master plan.
But Judge-Rapporteur Panuphan Chairatit added that it should refrain from scrapping the scheme, or ordering a public referendum to decide on the outcome.
“Scrapping the master plan, or ordering a public referendum, would be beyond the jurisdiction of an administrative court,” said Panuphan who is in charge of preparing the details of the case involving the water-management master plan. Panuphan has also made a number of recommendations, but they have no legal binding on the case, which will be ruled on by the Supreme Administrative Court’s panel of judges.
This case involves the government’s scheme to overhaul the country’s water management and flood prevention. The government has approved a massive budget of Bt350 billion in the wake of the 2011 flood crisis. However, critics are worried that the water-management plan has been rushed, with several parties – including the Stop Global Warming Association (SGWA) – claiming that the project may cause more harm than good. The SGWA and its supporters have demanded that the Supreme Administrative Court order the scrapping of the master plan and hold a public referendum on the scheme. Their petition goes as far as accusing caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM), the National Water and Flood Management Policy Commission, and the Water and Flood Management Commission (WFMC) of abusing their authority.
The petition criticises the scheme’s preparation, including the fact that just five days after it was unveiled in early 2012, the Cabinet issued a royal decree authorising the Finance Ministry to seek Bt350 billion in loans for the project’s implementation. The speed with which the authorisation was made has raised questions about the plan’s legitimacy, the petition says.
The Central Administrative Court said last year that the project modules would be put on hold until their preparation complied fully with the law, and legally stipulated public participation and environmental protection.
In response to that ruling, the government held a number of public forums in those provinces where project modules are planned. However, it has not yet signed any of the contracts with the successful bidders who will implement the nine water-management modules.
Panuphan said yesterday the public hearing process had still not covered all areas, which was “against the spirit of the Constitution”.