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Thailand’s High-Stake Pitch: A Golden Ticket for Global Investors or a Raw Deal for Local Communities?

Put a spotlight on the recent expedition of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, accompanied by the uppermost brass from the Transport Ministry. Their latest endeavour was to charm potential investors across the globe during the 30th APEC Summit 2023, held in the vibrant city of San Francisco. The investors were cherry-picked from the influential corridors of the European Union, Japan, China, and East Asia, with the ultimate objective of introducing them to the expansive land bridge project in question.

We now bring you insights from the horse’s mouth – Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit detailed the proposed progression plan for the game-changing project. It’s a meticulously drawn blueprint, set to evolve in four significant phases during the 15 years bracket from 2025 to 2040. Tutoring us about the project’s nitty-gritty, the minister elaborated about roping in private sector parties through an international bidding mechanism targeting a single, all-encompassing contract. This grand project extends to port development on both edges, linking expressways, and setting up railways. The cherry on the cake is the seductive 50-year management contract.

Rumour has it that the project promises to be a gold mine for investors, with returns expected to reach a minimum of 10% over a 24-year period. Add to this, the prospect of future growth from industry, real estate, and ancillary businesses is speculated to pump up financial gains and slash the return period.

However, this compelling pitch to magnet investors for the land bridge project has cast a shadow of concern over the locals of the targeted development areas. The residents, gathering their wits, organised an event to investigate the real winners and losers of the touted land bridge project, laying down 10 pivotal reasons detracting the project’s feasibility. They voiced their concern over grave environmental impacts and questioned the reality of the perennial prosperity promised from the foreign investments.

The report, presented by the regional council and network of the southern residents, was an eye-opener. It pointed to the project’s vital components – construction of mega ports in the locales of Ranong and Chumphon, development of a dual-track railway project, establishment of industrial estates, and petrochemical plants. All these aspects, they fear, suggest a looming exploitation of local resources. Their apprehension rests on the potential neglect of locals in order to satiate the appetites of foreign investors and a limited elite mix of politicians and construction moguls. The local population fears repercussions of losing their all for the illusion of national prosperity.

The kick-off of the said development is tentatively scheduled for April, shadowed by a call for private proposals. However, the brewing storm of public opposition raises questions about the completion of the crucial Special Economic Zone (SEC) Development Act for the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC). The deadline for this critical initiative – the stepping stone for the much-talked-about land bridge project, is drawing near, marked for December 2024. Whether it meets that deadline remains a question on everyone’s lips.

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