Chana residents had rallied in front of Government House for almost a week in mid-December, renewing their calls for the scarp of the project. Credit: SaveChana FB Page

EDITORIAL: Chana model city is a good opportunity to uphold good governance and the rule of law

The government’s ambitious industrial development project, the Progressive Industry for the Future model city of Chana in Songkhla province in the South, has been criticised as having bypassed environmental laws and public participation, and calls for reversing the decision and returning to good governance are growing

Whatever status it is given, the Special Development Zone or else, it cannot be deniable that the Progressive Industry for the Future model city of Chana would involve a large-scale industrial development, which would take up a vast area of farmland and fishing grounds of the three Tambons in Chana district of Songkhla province, approximately over 16,000 rai so far as first designated.

It is not a surprise if a group of locals living in the area are gravely concerned about the environmental impacts the project could cause, not to mention their livelihoods which rely much on the rich resources in the area.

What would rather be a much surprise in this case is despite the fact that the locals have voiced their grave concerns for months, there have been no concrete signals from the government that it would pay heed to their calls.

As explained by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), the agency assigned to take care of the project by the government, the Progressive Industry for the Future model city of Chana is an ambitious extension of the “Triangle of Security, Prosperity, and Sustainability” model city project, first proposed to the Cabinet by the Office of National Social and Economic Development Board in 2016.

Its prime goal? to “create jobs, raise income, and lift up the quality of life of the local residents in the areas and nearby” by developing some areas in Southern provinces to become “special economic areas” with prime investments from private sector.

Aside Pattani’s Nong Jik district, Narathiwas’ Su-ngai Kolok district, and Yala’s Betong district for the pilot projects, Chana was therefore picked as the forth model city with the similar reasons following its location and needs in the area.

Sound full of good intention, the project was started with the wrong authority in the first place. As the government has assigned the SBPAC to take care of the project, several relevant environmental laws and public participation have been seen being bypassed following its authority.

This is dangerous, considering the project is large in scale and likely causes adverse impacts on the environment as well as people’s livelihoods.

More critically, it’s also pushed a little forward the government’s new approach in introducing development projects under special authority and laws, which by law can bypass legitimate scrutiny.

This is even more dangerous as large scale and speedy development projects in the future could legitimately bypass environmental laws and public participation, the crucial mechanisms to keep destructive projects in check.

To adhere to the rule of law, not just in theory but in essence, the government must pay heed to the locals’ calls for the scrapping of the project and the dismissal of the SBPAC from its duty in developing the Chana model city.

This is not a compromise between the conflicting parties, but a must for the government to accomplish, as the state’s prime authority tasked to set good governance for the country.

It’s time to stop and drop the idea to push development projects through by bypassing critical laws and mechanisms that help maintain check and balance systems as this is too risky to undermine the country’s rule of law and governance.

If the Chana model city was about to set a short-cut benchmark for unsound development, it can also be a good start to reverse the intention and return to the rule of law and governance.

It’s also the time to start the truly meaningful development that truly benefits the people while the rule of law and governance are still adhered to for all.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment is the right proposal to start with.