THAILAND: Neighbours feel neglected

District adjacent to Roi Et, province focused on by Prime Minister's reality TV show, suffering hardship as well

Bangkok Post
Thursday, December 19, 2006

By Preeyanat Phanayanggoor

Roi Et --- Residents of Muang Suang, a district adjoining At Samat, want Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to "cross the bridge" linking the two districts and experience real poverty with no window-dressing. A small eight-metre long bridge crosses a canal along E-pui swamp, in tambon Nong Hin in Muang Suang district, which separates the two districts.

Residents of the districts call each other brother and sister. They earn their living from shared land and the swamp, situated in Nong Hin.

Suchart Supo, kamnan of Nong Hin, said the problems in his locality were no different than those in At Samat district-- land, water and debts--  but no one seemed to care about tackling them.

"We feel neglected because we live right next door to three tambons in At Samat. The nearest village to tambon Hora in At Samat, which Mr Thaksin visits [today], is just three kilometres away but it seems too far for the prime minister to come," Mr Suchart said.

"If he wants to see a real picture of poverty in Roi Et, our tambon could represent just that, with no make-overs or window-dressing."

All 700 households in the tambon were headed by rice farmers with typical problems -- no land or lack of title deeds. The soil was also bad which made it hard to grow other types of crops, while drought and floods were perennial problems.

Most residents were heavily in debt, to both banks and non-banks.

Residents wanted a second job in the off-harvest season. They had tried producing pla ra bong (fermented fish) and curry puffs under the government's One Tambon One Product (Otop) programme but found no market for it.

"Many residents were put off when we could not find a market for our products. The Otop fair takes place only twice a year, which is not enough."

As a kamnan, Mr Suchart lacked authority to tackle the problems, which were out of reach of even the district chief.

Sumrit Wongjumpa, chairman of Nong Hin tambon administration organisation, said he and 20 other Nong Hin residents would travel across the district line to the venue at tambon Hora where Mr Thaksin will be today. They want to propose a 500-million-baht project to develop E-pui swamp for water retention as it was used by people in both At Samat and Muang Suang districts.

"I don't know whether I will get a chance to talk to Mr Thaksin but I will try my best to propose a locally designed development of E-pui swamp, rather than a standard design of the central government.

"E-pui swamp is the bloodline of several tambons around the swamp. The development would inevitably tackle water problems for people in At Samat as well as Nong Hin.

"Our plan should not be dismissed simply because the swamp is in another district outside the boundary of At Samat," Mr Sumrit said.