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World Bank Drops a Bombshell: Lesser-Known Thai Cities Tipped as the Next Economic Powerhouses – But There’s a Catch!

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In their latest research, the venerable World Bank stresses the untapped potential for economic traction in Thailand’s birthing metropolises like Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and Rayong. The study, titled ‘Thailand Urban Infrastructure Finance Assessment,’ conjectures that investment in building effective transit systems and eco-friendly power supplies may invigorate these budding urban cores, contributing to an overall boost in Thailand’s economic machinery. However, a crucial caveat exists – the onus of financing these pivotal undertakings lies in private capital’s lap, rather than being a burden on the central exchequer.

For the longest time, Bangkok has been the heart pumping lifeblood into Thailand’s economy. However, today, this central artery is losing its vigor, battling decelerating growth. The World Bank believes that lesser-known urban brethren, if adequately financed, can surface as the new economic warriors, bolstering Thailand’s battle against slowing growth by investing in their infrastructure. The spin-off benefits, as per the study, extend beyond economic fortification. The nation would find itself better equipped in handling climate change and its ramifications, while also becoming a more formidable player on the international economic battleground.

The research paper is a joint endeavor by the Programme Management Unit on Area-based Development (PMU-A) and Khon Kaen University. The study introduces the idea of municipal borrowing and partnership amalgamations running along public-private lines as possible avenues to generate the desired financing. Patricia Mongkhonvanit, presiding as the Director-general of the Public Debt Management Office within the Ministry of Finance, echoes a similar sentiment. She champions these secondary cities as catalysts, sparking growth and pushing the envelope towards poverty elimination in rural belts.

Suppose one considers urbanizing these secondary cities. In that case, the possibilities appear galore – for those residing within the cities and for the rural population awaiting the spills of development. The proposed improved transport facilities, extensive electrification, better accessibility to markets, fortified education structure, and health services would act as a perfect set of gears. These cogs would run smoothly in tandem to aid the movement of goods, people, and services across the country and between cities, aiding national prosperity, improving job opportunities, and enriching life quality.

The World Bank report underscores how essential public amenities, like proper water and wastewater disposal, solid waste handling, lead to healthier environments and improved public health. It also emphasizes the dire need for cities to build infrastructural fortresses to defend against environment-induced hassles like frequent flooding and prolonged droughts.

However, the research also draws attention to a tricky contradiction. Even after the decentralization legislative movement in the ’90s, Thai cities, along with local governments, remain tied to the central government for infrastructure funding. Per the World Bank’s proposition, a “paradigm shift” is much needed to arm these secondary cities with the necessary powers, tools, and expertise to finance crucial infrastructure projects autonomously.

Poon Thingburanathum, the deputy director of corporate planning at PMU-A, reiterates the faith in urban expansion happening with Thailand’s emerging cities. He believes that tried and tested global strategies of municipal borrowing and public-private partnerships can pave the way towards accelerated urban infrastructure progression.

The inclusive research investigates the feasibility of certain project propositions in five distinctive Thai cities – Chiang Mai, Rayong, Nakhon Sawan, Khon Kaen, and Phuket. Additionally, it lays bare the policies and institutions that forge the road for city authorities, allowing them to manage finances and particularly, guide them towards accumulating capital for infrastructural investment.

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