PUBLIC FORUM: Economic zone bill lambasted

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Critics fear charter will be violated, checks undermined

A coalition of prominent critics yesterday slammed a new bill aimed at setting up special economic zones throughout the country because they said the legislation violated the Constitution and was a threat to national sovereignty.

The bill is designed to allow the government to bypass many articles of the Constitution as well as a series of environment, city planning and taxation laws to encourage foreign direct investment and fuel economic growth.

Articles 29, 31, 36, 49 and 50 of the Constitution guarantee basic human rights, such as providing protection against restriction of rights and liberties; freedom of travel and choosing place of residence within the Kingdom; protection against unfair expropriation of property; and guaranteed rights to fair and free economic competition.

The bill would have bypassed all of these articles, they said. “This bill is against the Constitution,” said Wasan Panich, a national human rights commissioner.

“It was designed to give privileges to small groups of investors and curtail the basic human rights of the majority of Thai people.”

Wasan was speaking at a public forum at Parliament yesterday organised by the Senate committee on human security, the Senate committee of foreign affairs, and the National Human Rights Commission.

Under the bill, he said, the committee of the special economic zones could order people to be searched or arrested without a court order. It could also expropriate both public and private property, or even forest land, he added.

“The bill also smashes the spirit of the Constitution, which supports political decentralisation and community participation. The special economic zones could be declared on any land and have a special law. There would be no public participation whatsoever,” Wasan said.

Lawyer Bantoon Setsirote said the 1992 Environmental Protection Act would also be bypassed because industries in the special economic zone would not have to carry out environmental impact assessments.

The Cabinet approved the law in principle on January 11 and it was expected to proceed to the Council of the State and Parliament after the election. If passed, the law would automatically nullify the 1979 Industrial Estates Act.

Senator Sak Korsaengrueng said the Thaksin Shinawatra administration would certainly proceed with the bill if returned to power after the election. If it gets a landslide victory, the government will claim it has a mandate from the people to do anything – even pass a bill that is against the Constitution.

The group, consisting of senators, human rights commissioners, prominent lawyers, economists and social activists, urged social sectors to study the bill and campaign against it before it proceeds to Parliament.

Published on February 03, 2005

Nantiya Tangwisutijit

The Nation

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