Monday, October 28, 2013

Pak Bara plan forces locals to hit the road

Let Pak Bara be a small seaside town, not a deep-sea port. Thai Coastal fishermen and environmentalists are using their feet to send that message _ they're on a long walk, roughly 200 kilometres, from Pak Bara in Langu district of Satun to Chana district of Songkhla. And what they are trying to say is: Save the sea. I assure you it does make more sense than it may appear to.

Another plan to build a deep-sea port in Dawei in Myanmar appeared to shift policy-makers' attention from Pak Bara _ they were excited about the new location, which also includes a huge industrial complex on the Andaman Sea coastline.

But now the Dawei project seems to have lost some steam, even though the Thai and Myanmar governments have taken it from Italian-Thai Development Plc. Even leaders in Nya Pyi Taw appear not to care that much about Dawei, compared with the eagerness to be found in Thailand,  as Myanmar still has other projects in the pipeline.

This is evident in the actions of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra; her visiting Myanmar guests and others, especially those from Japan, a prime potential investor, on the two-country commitment to getting it underway _ and a plea for Tokyo to be part of it rather than an outsider .

It remains unknown how many rounds of talks will be needed until Japan is persuaded to join the Dawei bandwagon. Especially as another project _ Thilawa _ apparently makes more economic sense to  the Japanese due to the fact that its location is much closer to Myanmar's business centre in Yangon. Japan cannot say no, but this does not mean the Japanese will say yes.

With Plan A moving slowly, Plan B has been revived. Better to have a smaller port at Pak Bara than nothing at all is the worst case scenario for Thailand as it can serve the country as an outlet for shipping to Europe, the Middle East and the subcontinent.

The problem is there will be a big price to pay to build a port _ potentially the largest in the Andaman Sea _ there. It will virtually put an end to coastal fishing for southerners in Langu and probably other neighbouring coastal districts.

The Petra Marine National Park is there and part of it must be sacrificed for cargo ships, exports and more in the name of development _ if it is built.
The port alone will be meaningless unless a train line, better roads and factories are there as feeders.

Pak Bara already serves as a port for tourists going to Petra and another national marine park on Tarutao. Yet it can be more than just a short stop-off on the way to those places and other islands if the townspeople can come up with a plan to project its name onto the tourist map and cash in on visitors, just like the two national parks have done

The long march of the protesters from the port to Chana, where another port on the opposite side of the southern mainland might also be built, could create a lot of noise in the two districts But it might not be loud enough for the decision-makers to hear as Pak Bara and Chana are far from where the bigwigs hold sway.

The marchers hope the Mae Wong dam protest example might help them gain public attention for this southern issue _ especially after seeing celebrities and middle-class people joining that particular march as it neared its final destination in Bangkok.

Walking from Pak Bara to Chana will probably not achieve their goal. They might need to extend the march to Bangkok. And that would be one very long journey. But when everything in this country is decided .in the confines of the capital, the last desperate step would seem an obvious one.