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Australian Ambassador James Wise with Phuket's Governor

Phuket Changes Push Aided by Aussie Ambassador

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
AUSTRALIA'S Ambassador to Thailand, James Wise, has confirmed his attendance at Monday's sixth and most important meeting between Governor Tri Augkaradacha and Phuket's honorary consuls.

The ambassador's presence is likely to add to mounting pressure for changes on Phuket to bring the island in line with its international status and visitors' expectations of safety and security standards.

Australia is Phuket's most important source of tourists - and a country that warns its citizens in no uncertain fashion on its official government site about holiday scams and rip-offs on Phuket.

Some honorary consuls, including Australia's Larry Cunningham, are known to be concerned at the slow pace of change on Phuket. Yet some significant but subtle headway has been achieved.

Mr Wise's visit is likely to be a timely reminder, too, that in November, when the ambassador made his first trip to Phuket, the Governor undertook to provide a ''safer Phuket'' for visiting Aussies.

Since then, two young male visitors from Sydney have been knifed in a violent late-night altercation with a Patong gang, and Australians and other tourists continue to be ripped off by Phuket's business-as-usual jet-ski extortionists.

The fifth honorary consuls' meeting in February produced frank and feisty debates about tuk-tuk fares and jet-ski scams, and it's likely that these two topics will again be high on the agenda for Monday's meeting.

The honorary consuls' regular three-monthly gatherings, initiated last year by former Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob at the suggestion of German Ambassador Dr Hanns H. Schumacher, have provided a focus for bringing together the people best qualified to speak for tourists and expat residents, and Phuket's leaders and administrators.

Many of the issues that were once only raised in private one-on-one discussions are now aired in parliamentary-style sessions at Provincial Hall in Phuket City, where the Phuket media can report on them.

Yet tuk-tuk fares, jet-ski rip-offs and Phuket's public transport issues in general are not covered openly or often in the Thai-language media. Because tourist issues are largely ignored - even when all Phuket residents also suffer - community awareness of the need for change on Phuket is dim and underdeveloped.

Now, after five meetings with Phuket administrators and police, the honorary consuls are hoping to win the support of more Thai residents to pursue their aims of making Phuket safer and better equipped to flourish and prosper as a tourist destination.

The positives from the innovative gatherings so far are as follows:

..After decades of ignorance and ''us versus them'' thinking, there's an official forum where all pertinent issues that affect tourists and residents on Phuket are being repeatedly raised;

..Honorary consuls now actively compare notes, have a greater understanding of Phuket's potential pitfalls for tourists, and are better equipped to help those in peril;

..Police now provide detailed lists of all expats accused of committing crimes on Phuket, and of those who are alleged victims, as well as an explanation for all expat deaths, thus dispelling many myths and rumors;

..The interest of the Foreign Ministry and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's personal involvement has helped to generate more intense Bangkok attention on what some honorary consuls say is ''the most corrupt province in Thailand'';

..Either coincidentally or as a direct consequence - we don't know which - an investigation by a Bangkok team from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission has begun on Phuket.

All these positive advances, though, are seen as relatively amorphous when the intent of some of the honorary consuls has been to trigger rapid reformation of Phuket's public transport system, and to bring to an end the jet-ski scams.

It was Mr Wise's predecessor as Australian ambassador who raised the jet-ski scams over a lunch with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, triggering phone calls to the then Phuket Governor and the then Phuket Police Commander, calling for action.

An insurance scheme for jet-skis and every encouraging sign of change so far on Phuket has been gradually eroded by time, and lack of serious enforcement.

It's still too early to tell, though, whether the honorary consuls' meetings can eventually generate real change.

A proper judgement can only be made after two years of debate and consideration, following honorary consuls' meeting No. 8. Those who hope to see further developments await Monday's Phuket honorary consuls' meeting No. 6 with great interest.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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insurance put in place previously was a big joke as the amount to pay by the customer looked also as racketeering but covered by an insurance contract.
The racketeers are well known so what do the police ? why they don't move ? it is strange...

Posted by Anonymous on May 18, 2011 20:37

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Frank articles like this are why I read this website. Yes, change is possible; no, while a head-in-the-sand mindset prevails, from both posters on this site and local officials.

Posted by Sam Wilko on May 18, 2011 20:39


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