Blast at Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate Kills 12

2012 05 06 map ta phut blast

Reuters reports today:

Thai authorities were investigating on Sunday a blast that killed 12 people and wounded at least 105 at one of the world’s biggest petrochemical hubs.

Explosions sparked a fire at a chemical factory at the sprawling Map Ta Phut complex – Thailand’s biggest industrial estate – on Saturday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people and workers from the area in Rayong province, about 180 km (110 miles) east of Bangkok.

The Bangkok Synthetics plant, 20-percent owned by Thailand’s largest industrial group, Siam Cement Pcl, produces butadiene and other raw materials used in the manufacturing of synthetic rubbers and plastic resins.

The blaze has been extinguished and many evacuees have returned home, said Verapong Chaiperm, governor of the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand, confirming the number of dead and wounded.

“The evacuation order has been cancelled while other nearby buildings and factories around the area are under security checks,” he said in an interview.

Authorities were investigating the cause of the explosions and were watching closely for the environmental impact of the spread of the chemicals, said Verapong

The Bangkok Post has more here and here.

A few years ago, as you’ll recall, Map Ta Phut was the focal point of a lawsuit about pollution and the Thai constitution’s environmental protection requirements.

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: Bangkok Post.)

Thai court: 74 of 76 Map Ta Phut projects can resume

An update to follow up on my previous posts on the topic of the Map Ta Phut industrial estate impasse:

Reuters: Thai stocks seen up after Map Ta Phut court ruling

Thai stocks are expected to edge higher on Friday, supported by continued foreign fund inflows and after a court ruled to give the go-ahead to most projects at Map Ta Phut, the country’s largest industrial estate, analysts said.

The court lifted a ban on Thursday on all but two of 76 industrial projects halted because of environmental concerns at Map Ta Phut in a long-awaited decision that could accelerate
investment.

WSJ: Thai Court Rules Industrial Projects Can Resume

In a decision that will likely be cheered by foreign investors, a Thai court Thursday ruled that nearly all the projects at Map Ta Phut industrial park can resume operations, despite environmental and health concerns.

The ruling, which will allow most of the $12 billion in new projects to move forward, could lift worries that Ford Motor Co. and others had expressed earlier that investment-friendly Thailand is becoming a more difficult place to do business. Thailand faced increasing skepticism following the court decision last year that halted the projects, as well as concerns about stability following political turmoil earlier this year.

Bloomberg: Thai Court Lifts Ban on Industrial Projects Halted on Environment Grounds

A Thai court ruled that most of the 76 industrial projects halted last year because of pollution and licensing concerns can be restarted, a decision that may resolve uncertainties about the nation’s investment regulations.

The Administrative Court will allow 74 of the projects to proceed, Banyat Wisuddhimark, the senior state attorney, said after the ruling in Bangkok today. It revoked operating licenses for two projects that are included on a government list of “harmful activities,” he said.

Bangkok Post: Most Map Ta Phut projects off hook

The Administrative Court has ordered the operating permits of only two industrial projects in the Map Ta Phut area to be terminated, allowing 74 other earlier-suspended projects to go ahead.

The court on Thursday handed down its ruling in the case filed by Map Ta Phut villagers and the Stop Global Warming Association against eight state agencies in June last year.

The court spent almost three hours reading the 116-page verdict, while about 300 Map Ta Phut residents gathered in the court’s compound to listen to the much-awaited ruling.

Villagers affected by industrial pollution reacted emotionally to the verdict, which many considered as a defeat.

Thai court to rule today on 76 suspended industrial projects at Map Ta Phut

Bloomberg: Thai Administrative Court to Decide Fate of 76 Halted Industrial Projects:

A Thai court will decide today whether 76 industrial projects halted last year because of pollution and licensing concerns can restart, a ruling that may resolve uncertainties over the nation’s investment regulations.

The Administrative Court will begin delivering its ruling at 2 p.m. in Bangkok, it said in a statement.

For the back story, see this post.

UPDATE: Bangkok Post: “74 MTP projects allowed to proceed.”

Update on Map Ta Phut (guest post at BP)

Below is a guest post that appeared yesterday on the Bangkok Pundit blog, which is part of the Asian Correspondent site. Here is a link to the original post.

By Newley Purnell

With the dramatic political unrest that unfolded here in Bangkok during April and May, it may be easy to lose sight of a pressing business-related issue still facing Thailand: the ongoing Map Ta Phut industrial estate impasse.  

Map Ta Phut, in Rayong province, is one of the world’s biggest industrial estates. It is home to projects by multinationals like Dow, as well as Thai firms like PTT and Siam Cement. But 76 projects in Map Ta Phut — worth an estimated US$10 billion — were suspended in a court ruling by Thailand’s Central Administrative Court in Sept., 2009.

The ruling came about after an environmental group and dozens of local residents filed suit, claiming people in the area have suffered adverse health effects due to ongoing pollution at the site.

Their lawsuit argued that the Map Ta Phut projects do not comply with the 2007 Thai constitution. This document has more strict environmental requirements than its predecessor, the 1997 constitution. But no regulations have been enacted since 2007 that would actually allow companies to comply with the new stipulations.

The Abhisit administration appealed, but a Dec. 2 Supreme Administrative Court ruling upheld the original decision, allowing just 11 of the projects to resume. The rest remain suspended. The government has set up a committee, which is says is comprised of various stakeholders, to find a way forward.

The suspension of the projects in Map Ta Phut has, understandably, caused concern among Thailand’s foreign investors. They say there’s a lack of clarity regarding the law, and indeed regarding future environmental enforcement in Thailand. 

More details on the case can be found in previous Bangkok Pundit posts here and here. The New York Times ran a Dec. 18, 2009 piece that provides a good overview, and Al Jazeera ran a 22-minute documentary TV piece called “Toxic Thailand” on April 22. The BBC also ran a story on March 5.

More recently, in a June 29 piece, Reuters quoted the president of the Federation of Thai Industries as saying that the suspended projects should be able to begin again in late 2010 or early 2011.

But the latest developments will not be welcome news to investors.

The Bangkok Post ran a story Thursday detailing frustrations among the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC) that the issue has continued to drag on. The president of JCC Bangkok, Junichi Mizonoue, was quoted as saying the Thai government has said it will need two more months to review a list of activities that would be considered harmful — a necessary step in ultimately reaching a resolution.

“Generally speaking,” he is quoted as saying in the Post story, “I don’t think Thailand can attract big new investments until all remaining issues related to Map Ta Phut become clear because all investors are so annoyed about the unclear regulations in Thailand.”

The JCC Isn’t the only party urging the Thai government to resolve the issue quickly. A separate Bangkok Post story from Thursday noted that the chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce says the government should try to bring the entire matter to a close within a month. 

Earlier, on Jan. 14, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in an address at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand event that it would take six to eight months to resolve the issue. That would mean, of course, by now — July to September, 2010.

The government might argue, of course, that the red shirt demonstrations over previous months has meant that the authorities had to focus their efforts on other issues — like maintaining law and order — and that a delay was inevitable.

On the other hand, investors and companies operating in Map Ta Phut might point not to the earlier time frame of six to eight months, or even the prospect of operations resuming at the end of 2010. They might highlight, in exasperation, this figure: 10 months. That’s the amount of time that has elapsed since the original court ruling. And there’s still no resolution.

And what about the people who live near Map Ta Phut? They have been voicing their complaints for years, they say.

Newley Purnell

Map Ta Phut: the big picture

map_ta_phut.jpg

Many news stories about the Map Ta Phut industrial estate issue focus on the latest developments — court decisions, the number of suspended cases, latest appeals, etc.

An opinion piece in yesterday’s Bangkok Post is worth pointing out, however, because it provides some analysis and takes a big picture look at the situation.

The piece, written by two Political Science academics — one from the U.S.’s Northern Illinois University and one from Thailand’s Thammasat University — is called “Map Ta Phut spat hides a colossal failure.”

Here are a few relevant snippets, though I suggest reading the piece in full.

One lesson that emerges from this chronology of events is that Thais have long recognised the need for wider public participation in public policy making, in large part reflecting sensitivity to the environmental consequences of large energy, industrial and infrastructural projects.

Despite this understanding, however, Thais have to date not been successful in devising mechanisms to balance the voices of the diverse interests involved and to then (and this is crucial) reach an authoritative decision that will be accepted as at least procedurally legitimate and, contingently, the last word by most of those interests. This failure is now evident in the impasse that has been reached in Map Ta Phut.

And:

The difficulty involved in the Map Ta Phut conflicts goes well beyond a refusal to confront environmental issues. Several business voices have suggested, in fact, that they worry less about more stringent environmental regulations than about a lack of regulatory clarity. The absence of effective, inclusive deliberations that result in widely supported public policies that state officials implement authoritatively is evident in other areas of Thai public life as well. Indeed, the planning processes governing Thailand’s major public investment projects such as airports, mass transit, irrigation, and even the ports and industrial estates of the Eastern Seaboard projects (where Map Ta Phut is located) themselves often have been uncertain, slow and episodic. Or consider that after many years and studies, decisions and revisions, Thailand’s parliament has yet to relocate.

Making decisions about big, expensive and complex projects with environmental impacts is of course a challenge in any country and often leads to delays, challenges, and cost overruns. The problem, however, seems to be acute in Thailand.

Why is it so difficult to make big, consequential decisions in Thailand? In part, the answer relates to Thailand’s political pluralism that impedes the sort of streamlined and technocratic decision procedures we might find in China or Singapore. Even under Thailand’s authoritarian regimes of the past 30 years, political power typically has not been concentrated enough to make it easy to reach big decisions and make them stick. (The Thai Rak Thai Party’s political dominance from 2001 to 2006 and then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s decisive personality marked a major exception to these patterns.)

And:

Weak political institution

Still other factors that may make it difficult to reach big decisions in Thailand relate to the feebleness of the country’s political institutions. While in many countries it seems natural to accord major influence over key public policies to formal representative institutions – legislatures and political parties – in Thailand many people are dubious of the representative character of those institutions. As a result, Thais are as apt to view decisions reached in parliament as fixes bargained among an oligopoly of special interests as they are to see it as a reasoned compromise growing out of relatively disinterested and sober deliberations.

(Emphasis mine.)

Again, I suggest reading the piece in full.

As a reminder, here is my Jan. 15 post with PM Abhisit’s remarks on Map Ta Phut.

I’m also establishing a Map Ta Phut tag for future posts on the issue.

Image source: Bangkok Post.

Thai PM Abhisit on Map Ta Phut: Notes from last night’s FCCT speech

abhisit_vejjajiva.jpg

Just as I did last year, I wanted to share my notes from the speech that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gave at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand event here in Bangkok last night.

Because I’ve been covering the Map Ta Phut industrial estate issue, I took particular interest in Abhisit’s comments on the topic.

The back story, in case you haven’t been following the case: 76 industrial projects worth nearly $10 billion in Map Ta Phut were suspended by Thailand’s central administrative court on Sept. 29, 2009. The order came after complaints about ongoing pollution in the area and allegations that the projects aren’t in compliance with the 2007 Thai constitution. This NYT story provides a general overview.

Most recently, on Dec. 2, 2009, Thailand’s supreme administrative court upheld the ruling after an Abhisit administration appeal. Just 11 of the 76 projects have been allowed to continue. It remains unclear when the rest of the stalled projects will be able to resume.

Here’s what Thai PM Abhisit had to say about the issue during the the Q&A session last night. I have bolded his comments about a time frame for resolving the issue, as well as his thoughts on the foreign investment climate and future enforcement of Thailand’s environmental laws:

The basic problem is this: the constitution says that any project that might have severe environmental or health impact on local communities must follow certain procedures.

What happened with the projects in Map Ta Phut was the government felt that those projects did not have severe environmental or health impact on the local communities, and our judgment on that was not just our own judgment, it was based on the environmental impact assessment that had been made according to our environmental law.

Now, unfortunately our judgment and the administrative court’s judgment were different. The court said that these projects might affect the local communities in terms of health and environment impact severely, so it had issued a temporary order to freeze these projects.

So what we did was that first of all, we said to the private sector who were involved, if they were prepared to voluntarily join the process that you have to go through if these projects were projects that could severely have an impact on the community, then let’s do it, voluntarily. And to do that we have to have regulations and then subsequently laws that would set up this process. We’ve now achieved that.

We’ve got the announcement by the environmental ministry so that you can do the EIA and HIA according to the new standards. You can now have a public hearing and also an independent views being submitted according to the regulations issued by the prime minister’s office. A number of projects have already begun to go through this process, which can take maybe up to six or eight months.

Now out of those projects, in fact the ones that are most affected are the ones that had completed construction or were already in operation. [inaudible number] more are under construction and we’ve identified about 19 that we feel have a good case to put to the admin court to have them released from this temporary order. The rest actually were in the process of seeking approval.

For new projects and new investments all this means is they have to go through a more vigorous process in terms of assessing health and environmental impacts, but the rules are clear.

So what clearly has upset sentiment has been the uncertainty that the current projects are facing because they thought they had gone through all the legal requirements but they have been ruled not to have done so, and they are correcting that.

So it’s something that I think we have now reached a point where there is a clarity about what needs to be done and I think also we are at the point where new investment has to accept higher standards of scrutiny before they get their permits.

(Again, emphasis mine.)

(Image source: AFP via BBC NEWS.)