It was a busy day on Monday for Consul-Generals and Honorary Consuls representing at least 18 foreign countries as they attended two important meetings in Phuket, both gearing towards improving communication channels among themselves and the Thai authorities.
In the morning about 17 Consul-Generals and Honorary Consuls, who are mostly covering Phuket, Phang-Nga and Krabi, had a friendly session with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ or MFA Protocol Department at the Adamas Resort and Spa on Nai Yang beach. The session was chaired by the Chief of Protocol Department, Mr. Bansarn Bunnag. German Ambassador to Thailand, H.E. Dr. Hanns Heinrich Schumacher was also present.
The meeting discussed clear channels of communication, both in normal times, but with contingency plans in case of emergencies, following international practice. The meeting was shown what’s called a ‘Phuket Model’ design with concise channel of contacts and communication in the wake of any needs to handle stressful situations. The Thai Chief of Protocol told the international representatives that the ministry designated the Chief of the Passport Office in Phuket, Thanawat Sirikul, as the first contact person in the Andaman region and they are now preparing handbooks containing up-to-date names and contact number lists for all international representatives. The meeting also worked in detail for the contingency plans with the ultimate goal of working and coordinating with Thai authorities efficiently for the utmost benefit in looking after their citizens in times of need.
The German Ambassador to Thailand commented to the meeting not only for his embassy, but also on behalf of his European embassies’ colleagues in Bangkok, thanking the Thai counterparts for arranging what he called a ‘unique initiative’ He said the full participation of Consul-Generals and Honorary Consuls indicated a need to establish linked channels of communication between the international representatives and the Thai authorities. He also hoped that the seminar is the first opportunity to strengthen the links between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the representatives of authorities. He pointed out despite the May incident Thailand still gains confidence among international representatives stressing that Phuket is still one of the world tourism hubs.
In the afternoon, the same group had a meeting with the Phuket authorities, chaired by Phuket Governor Wichai Praisa-Ngob at the Provincial Hall. The Chief of Protocol Department, his deputy and German Ambassador to Thailand were again present. The governor told the foreign envoys that he will make sure that his Thai officials are efficient and friendly to welcome tourists and visitors starting from the airport, emphasizing safety as a main priority for visitors and residents. Apart from establishing concise channels of communication to facilitate work efficiency, the focal issue in the afternoon centred around cases concerning foreigners in Phuket and how people involved are treated. The Provincial Police Commander Pikad Thantipong reported the number of cases concerned with foreign nationals. It was agreed earlier that the ambassadors, consuls or representatives be notified in writing when such cases occurred. Pol. Major General Pikad however admitted that there may be delays in some cases. He pointed out the comparative figure of fatal cases for foreigners in Phuket, stating that in 2008 there was 61 cases, in 2009 there was 28 cases and this year up to August there was 52 fatal cases. In 2008 there were 108 foreign nationals involved in police cases compared to 222 cases in 2009 and 126 cases for 8 months this year. He pointed out that among this, narcotic drugs involvement comes very high, followed by acting under the influence of alcohol. The governor then told the international representatives that Phuket is going to use more sophisticated equipment for narcotic drugs checks.
The international representatives’ main issues of concerns were then raised, especially about passport seizures when foreigners or tourists are involved in cases. The international representatives also requested that the local authorities solve (police) corruption issues concerning the passport seizures and appoint female officers to deal with rape cases.
The provincial police explained that in cases where they are involved or charged with crimes, police need to seize their passports for investigation and to prevent them from fleeing out of the country. But in any other cases he would put a stop to it. The German Ambassador to Thailand emphasized the need for consuls to keep in close cooperation with local authorities, especially with police, as they are the first contact with foreigners in stressful situations.
(3 videos of raw footage from meetings & report made in cooperation with Andaman News team, NBT TV Phuket)