Chat with Chairat, Deputy Mayor of Patong, on current issues in the beachside city

Patong is Phuket’s main tourist and foreign expats’ location to visit or live in. However its attraction also brings many problems & complaints for its small municipality office and Chairat Sukaban is the main man foreign residents know, as a ‘fixer’, as he is fairly fluent in English. Phuketindex recently chatted to him about current problems & issues. His answers & solutions below are based on the actual transcript of interview, so you fully appreciate his feelings:

Why are the new Loma Park restaurant operators, who pay rent for inside areas, complaining about other outside food stalls, eg near toilets:

“We already discussed and talked about this; actually the area they rent from the city is not that outside area, so when we made a contract with them to rent the restaurants, how much space and area they can have, so many people complain, they are not happy about it, even us, about outside food stalls and carts; we don’t want it, the city doesn’t want it; we will solve that.
We only allow them (other stalls) to sell only some snacks, not food; they are not allowed to put food on the beach, they can sell some like sandwiches; made from home; they can carry and sell it; but we already control them; we don’t let them sell much; we have limits from the city also because we also worry; if we allow them to put food on the beach it’s not very good. So they are allowed to sell some things like sandwiches, or French Fries, fried chicken or whatever, but they have to fry from home; but inside the rented restaurants they can cook and sell all food;
On top of the restaurants on roof, we don’t plan anything yet, but before we thought it could be a rescue/resting area in case of a tsunami – people can go up there – better than leaving nothing there; so we make a stair so people can go up; so it can be a safe area.”

Have there been complaints about garbage on Soi Bangla?

“This is not my responsibility; it is another Deputy Mayor’s, Mr Prasarn, but I know about the complaints; everything gets complaints; I got a lot of complaints when I do this, when I do that; this is normal but it depends on what the policy is; depends on what is the focus of the city; if the city wants it clean; the city wants it in our rules; also law enforcement is very important; people have to understand; if you can do anything you want, it is not good for the city in the long run; maybe you can do it for 1 – 2 months, or 1 year maybe 2-3 years, nobody comes.”
So what is the basic rule? Do people have to put their rubbish out at night at a specific time?
“Actually we have timing. We made the letter and asked them already, like at a public hearing, we ask them to tell us what time they are available, what time is comfortable for them, not better for us, it’s better for them. Then we will go and get (the rubbish) from them at the time they want.”
So what is the time for Soi Bangla?
“At Soi Bangla, they cannot do it after 6 o’clock in the evening. They cannot deliver the garbage anymore because we close the road, it’s a walking street, people walking around, so we don’t want any garbage there; they have to deliver the garbage at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

What about separation of garbage, do you have any rules on separating like glass, metal etc for recycling?

“We tried to do that, but also the problem was in Patong many people, when the owners already separate, like hotels, restaurants, they already separate like water bottles or coke cans; but sometimes the problem was at night we have some garbage people who are just looking for garbage, they come to cut the garbage bags, so this is a problem for us too; but also another problem is in our garbage trucks as we have no way to separate garbage. (So this problem takes time).”

Will the one way traffic system (route) change?

“Yes. We got all the information from Kasetsart University who study about it for us and after that we gave this study to the police and they have to decide. By law the police have to take care of the traffic in the city; not us, we just support them”
So when do you think it may start – after you finish the middle road?
“I think before this high season coming.”
Will it just change the direction?
“Yes so you stay on the left (all roads). I think we have discussed with the new Chief of Police in Kathu, khun Arayapan, he comes to many meetings with us and last week we had a meeting with a Member of Parliament because we would like to change the one way system back. He said yes he also would like to do that, but my boss (khun Pian) said we have to do the drain gutter for water first; when we do that then we can start.”

What about the parking. I remember you saying last year that you would stop all the parking of tuk tuks & rental cars on the beach road?

“That also we have been discussing about. This also is a police job; he cannot do it alone; he has to get support from us too; but of course it’s not only us; it has to be supported by the Governor and also by the Traffic Department in Phuket, they have to control about that. It’s not only in our power.”
Are you saying then you haven’t got support from these other authorities, the other departments?
“As long as I think not, because I don’t see anything about coming to talk to us. The Transport Department also has to talk about that.”
Was the original idea that if the middle road was finished, there was space so they could go park there instead, is that right?
“That’s what we planned; I talked to the Chief of Police; we want to do that; they will give some stations where they can park, only 2-3, and after that they can use walkie-talkie; when the 1st car goes, the 4th car can replace, something like that. To have some space on the beach road, so people can come see some nice looking beach (views), not tuk tuks.”
Would the design of the (beach) road change to have more walking space?
“No we have to do this after we change the one way system first. After that the city has to come and make the lines. As you can see in the city the lines have not yet changed. We are not sure yet about traffic control. After that we can make the marks and lines on the road.”
Will you also increase say the walking area on the beach road like Soi Bangla?
“That is maybe. It depends on the traffic too. If the traffic can move, not get jammed, we can do many things too.”

Do you have any opinion about the tuk tuk prices and putting meters in?

“That is not my job. You have to ask the Transport Department.”
But khun Pian, the Mayor, his family runs the new Patong Taxi Association, is that right?
“Yes but these people will accept if the Transport Department extend their licence every year for transport, so they are the ones in control not us.”
But do you have an opinion on what you would like to see?
“We would like to see that (meters).”
Would you like to see the prices go down?
“I think yes, should be fair for the tourists in the long run. This is very important for every tourist city around the world.”
So what is a fair price then?
“I am sure I cannot decide. The tuk tuk people have to sit down and talk with many people. You can make a public hearing. How much does the gasoline cost? This is the problem. I cannot decide. You have to ask all the people involved. Why can other cities do but Patong cannot? If Bangkok can have fixed taxi meters, Phuket can also do that. But it depends on the government and Transport Department.”
But you don’t have a figure like say 100 baht for a pick up and 5 baht per (100 meters)?
“No I have no idea because I am not a tuk tuk driver, so you have to ask them what a fair price is. And talk to the department. How much is their tax? Or do they (drivers) pay at all? I don’t know.”

Now it’s the rainy season, so what about the floods on Soi Nanai?
“We already approved the budget. I think we already start. The company already; and member of municipality have approved the budget to make the solution, to make the gutter, the drain to the canal next to the klong/canal. We signed the contract and the company already started to work. But the problem before was, we didn’t expect that. So in the 3 or 5 year plan, we didn’t have anything. To do in the city you must have in the plan. But in that project we didn’t know that would happen. The problem was the owner of the villa(ge) and the private land behind, they had a problem with each other and they blocked the water way. It takes some time to put this project in the city plan. Then after that the members can approve it, then we can use the money.”

Are you worried about other areas, like say the bottom of the hill, & near the Novotel: a lot of water gets trapped there?
“We’ve already done there. Sometimes we don’t expect that. The rain comes many hours, very quick. From one mountain all the water comes to one place. So you cannot expect that everything clears in a minute, maybe half an hour, one hour, it depends also on the sea level.”
Also the area near Simon’s Cabaret is quite bad?
“We already dug a canal, so we’ve done that.”

Going back to the area near Novotel, I noticed before the dirty water like sewage, seems to come out onto the beach in a small cove opposite Novotel. It looks like bad water?

“Normally over there we have a station to suck the water back to our factory/water treatment plant, in that exact corner. Maybe if the electric pump is broken or whatever but we have a company to take care of that.”

What about the south end of the beach on the klong. Are there any improvements there?

“I think now the klong is very clear as my boss makes it very deep. It’s better than before. Have a look at it. Then ask me.”
But in general during the rainy season the seawater always get worse? Natural overflows?
“That is the rain water. Not the dirty water from the housing or hotels. There are different lines: water for drains goes to the ocean or the water going to the factory. Have you seen the factory?”
No but is it working well?
“Yes, it can cope. You should look. I think we are one of the best in the south of Thailand.”

For drinking water, are you still getting supplies from the desalination plant on Karon hill?
“Yes but this is nothing to do with us. This should be with the Water Company in Bangwad (dam), with the city. Patong doesn’t control it. We receive it. They sell water to Bangwad and after that they sell back to the people in city. Nothing to do with the city.”
Is there enough then?

“I don’t think so, you can see how many trucks drive around every day in Phuket, not just Patong. So we also try to make a small dam in the mountains, to stock the water, to keep water and save as much as we can, but you know we don’t have much public land, so it’s quite difficult, even in Phuket, you see a lot of dams, where they did mining, but now they close, where they do housing. I think Phuket is going to have a problem in future with the water. We don’t plan for long term.”

Tsunami towers; there are 3 towers in Patong. 1 big one and 2 small ones on top of hotels; Are all 3 working?

“Working. They are tested. You can see if you go to the warning center in Bangkok. If something wrong, the computer will show you the red mark. It works. It’s green. I talked to Dr Wattana, he controls the weather forecasts, he worked for the department; I studied with him in America, Washington State University. We are going to have a radar to detect waves, in Patong.”
Do you think they should be tested with a sound, not just silent test?
“You should ask the Warning Center in Bangkok. It’s not controlled by me, us. but ITC in Nonthaburi. They give better information. I just take care here. But they link to me, if anything happens. I will warn my staff. My staff warn the people in the city. Next when we have a radar in Patong and Ban Nam Kem (Phang Nga province); one will protect/warn (of tsunamis) from Sumartra, the other from Nicobar. They are the two areas in the ring of fire, so they can protect us. Not a problem.”

During the recent earthquake, about a month ago (April 7), there was confusion as some thought it was a warning to evacuate but it was just a watch not even an alert. But why did some people panic, evacuate?

“No we did not evacuate. We just said watch. Also the early warning center in Bangkok said watch. Do you know why? Because the earthquake was very deep. 400 km. As I study I know it’s not going to cause a big wave or if there is a wave, not more than 1 metre, so no need to warn. At least we prepared ourselves.”
So your officials did not order evacuation?
“No we had to listen to them. But later when we have a radar we can evacuate ourselves because they will have a computer and link to us here.”
Do you think people should be informed by the tsunami tower of a watch, there’s no danger, just to keep people informed?
“No, if you do that, every day there could be earthquakes, nobody is going to listen to you!”
What about drills? Was there going to be a drill, practice evacuation?
“Yes in June, July.”
Do you think it should be done at night or be more of a surprise?
“Don’t ask me, ask them. I can’t make a decision. It’s dangerous at night. I understand it. I don’t mind to do it but you should ask the Governor or government in Bangkok.”

Thank you khun Chairat for your candid comments and chat.

Question for readers: what other issues in Patong or Phuket would you like raised next time?


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