In a bid to create the impression that the coal-fired power plant in Krabi has won backing from locals, Krabi governor Pinit Boonlert submitted a list of supporters’ signatures last week, totalling 15,000, to the government. That is worrisome.
The move came immediately after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the government attached importance to public participation and would pay heed to locals’ needs when making a final decision over the contentious project in the province with a population of 456,800. He made the comments in response to the fresh round of protests by anti-coal supporters at Government House last month.
Needless to say, the Krabi governor’s move indicates an escalating conflict and confrontation between supporters and opponents of the controversial power plant, proposed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat). It is a shame that provincial officials are resorting to tactics which will simply deepen the divide in the province.
Lessons from the UK Brexit vote should make us realise that a referendum-style tactic is not, and should not be, the answer to issues with such a widespread and serious impact like the coal-fired power plant. All the more so when the state and Egat have invested heavily in local development projects, including infrastructure improvements and scholarships for children, and others, to win the hearts and minds of locals.
Of course, the Prayut administration deserves some credit for recognising the need to listen to locals. But we must not mistake the referendum-style tactic or the numbers game as public participation process as it will limit the answers to merely a “yes” or “no”, and will not differentiate between what is right and wrong.
Photo credit: Greenpeace
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