Thai officials announced Friday that they are investigating complaints about four development projects in the Deep South that local people say do not benefit them.
A fact-finding committee headed by a government representative said preliminary reviews of the projects found irregularities, including that many of the 16,000 sets of recently installed solar-energy street lights valued at 997 million baht (U.S. $30 million) do not work.
“We will not only punish the wrongdoers, but we would like to have sound projects that tangibly benefit the people,” said Gen. Chamlong Khunsong, one of 13 members of a special delegation tasked by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha with resolving problems in the Deep South.
“For the projects that remain under warranty, the broken items must be fixed on time, otherwise the responsible parties must be held accountable,” he told reporters following a meeting at the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center (SBPAC) in Yala.
He said the investigation stemmed from petitions filed by residents, and a detailed investigation would start in September.
Residents hailed the move as a gesture of sincerity in a region plagued by mutual mistrust between local people and government officials.
More than 7,000 people have been killed since 2004 in violence associated with a separatist insurgency in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region.
$10 billion invested
The government has since injected about 332 billion baht ($10 billion) into security operations and infrastructure development to spur the economy and counter rebel influence. But locals have complained that the projects were tainted by corruption or did not respond to the region’s needs.
A Pattani resident said that when people filed complaints to government agencies in the past they were treated as slanderers, further fueling their discontent.
“This is one of the factors that people find unjust, as they [government officials] claim they develop the area for locals... but the full budget never reaches the area. Some projects arrive at less than 30 percent. Before it hits the ground, it has passed through many units, provinces, districts, villages on the way – everybody needs to cut cake and eat until full,” said the villager, who identified himself only as Waeyusof.
“To me, this is the first-ever probe in this region and I appreciate it because it is a gesture of the government’s sincerity to solve a complex problem,” he told BenarNews.
In September 2016, Prayuth set up a 13-member “forward government” including an ex-Army chief, former military commanders and civilian officials in the Deep South, and tasked it with monitoring developments in the region, including oversight of the SBPAC.
In addition to the street lights, the team will investigate a 172 million baht ($5.2 million) athletic field left in disrepair and a 142 million baht (U.S.$4.3 million) renovation project on the 300-year-old Talo Mano mosque in Narathiwat that former SBPAC officials awarded to a bankrupt company.
The fourth project to be probed is the purchase of an old hotel for 252 million baht ($7.6 million) to be used by SBPAC.
“It was good to set up a graft committee, but there are more projects they should probe and the investigation should go back to the beginning of certain projects,” said another resident, who asked not to be named.