Thai canal plan won't die, says activist

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The Thai canal project is unlikely to be put to rest, despite the House of Representatives last week rejecting a study into the proposal, says an activist working on environmental issues.

Somboon Khamhaeng, member of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development, said the House’s rejection of the report caught him by surprise, but he believed something went wrong in the lobbying process.

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The project was likely to resurface in future administrations as the project involved massive investments. He said about 10 billion baht was earmarked alone for the project’s feasibility study, which made it highly attractive.

Previously known as the Kra Canal project, the Thai canal project was brought up under almost every government, but has never come to fruition due to high investment costs, the likely impacts on environment and people’s livelihoods.

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The latest push for the study into the Thai canal project took place in January 2020 when the House accepted a motion to set up an a committee to study the plan along with the proposed Southern Economic Corridor.

The report was submitted to the House for a debate and put up for a vote last Friday. A total of 144 MPs voted against it, while 121 voted in favour with 53 abstentions.

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Move Forward Party list-MP Surachet Praweewongwut said the MFP rejected the report not because it was opposed to the project, but it wanted a more thorough and objective study. Mr Surachet said the report was very suggestive with partial views.

The House’s rejection also caused an uproar by the main opposition Pheu Thai Party which insisted the meeting was not authorised to vote on the report.

Deputy House speaker Supachai Phosu, who presided over the session, asked MPs to vote after members expressed mixed views.

However, Dr Cholnan Srikaew, leader of Pheu Thai and the opposition, argued the MPs were allowed a vote on the committee’s observations only, not the report.

“It isn’t for the House to decide if the Thai canal project will go ahead. It isn’t for the House to decide on the 5G rollout. Legislators shouldn’t interfere with the executive branch, and that’s why they are called ‘observations’,”

“I’d like the chairman to consider this — when a study, for instance the casino-entertainment complex study, is ready and the report is rejected, the entire study goes to waste,” he said.

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