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''No extortionate taxi fares, no building sites . . . welcome to the New Phuket''

End Corruption, Says Retiring Aussie Consul

Monday, September 2, 2013
PHUKET: Larry Cunningham is ending eight years as Australia's first honorary consul on Phuket with a call for Thailand to make the popular holiday island a corruption-free model for the whole country.

News of his retirement came today in a media release that noted the resort owner's contribution. The 2004 tsunami made Australian officials realise a posting was needed on Phuket.

Advertising for another honorary consul means that Australia has abandoned plans to open a fully staffed consulate on Phuket - even though the number of Australian visitors to Phuket has tripled since 2005, when Mr Cunningham took on the role.

His decision to quit comes amid a row with a Thai official on Phuket who told him in a telephone message: '' . . . it is not wise to always say bad things about Phuket while you are still living and doing your business in this city.''

Mr Cunningham has been outspoken about Phuket but Friday's incident had nothing to do with his departure. His end-of-September finishing date has been planned for weeks.

The row with the Thai official - in the aftermath of yet another Phuket dispute over a tourist having to pay for jet-ski damage - was coincidental but quite appropriate.

The wrangle served to highlight the difficult role that all honorary consuls play in helping tourists who get into trouble on Phuket.

Mr Cunningham has become the go-to man for other consuls because he won't stand for being bullied or give ground if he knows he is in the right.

Yet he still believes Phuket has a chance of becoming corruption-free and an asset that attracts ''quality'' tourists - if Thailand's government is serious about cleaning up the holiday hot spot.

''Phuket being an island province could be the first province in Thailand to adopt a corruption-free approach,'' he told Phuketwan.

''The honorary consuls tried for many years to reduce corruption within Phuket. We've had to try to do it now through Bangkok.''

Mr Cunningham, who runs the Chava Resort at Phuket's Surin beach, plans to spend his first Christmas in 12 years in Australia with grandchildren then divide his time between Sydney and Phuket.

In typically forthright fashion, here's what he has to say about Phuket and its issues:

Phuket, Still a Number One Destination

PHUKET IS still the number one tourist destination in southern Asia. If you want to go for a beach holiday, Phuket is generally the first thought that comes into people's minds. It's a beautiful place and it has some exceptional facilities. But the bad things are evident for most people to see. There's been overdevelopment, too. The substandard roads have not kept pace with the exploding population.

'A Substantial Amount of Corruption . . .'

UNFORTUNATELY we have substantial corruption, which is evident mainly by the extortion of foreigners on Phuket - the extortion of tourists and the extortion of foreigners who live here. On a positive note, the fact the Department of Special Investigation have come to Phuket to try to eliminate some of these problems is a wonderful thing. However, many Thai officials still believe nothing is wrong with Phuket. And these officials try to hide what is wrong and the reason why we have not had any changes.

Phuket Has Its Best Chance Now

PHUKET, BEING a self-contained island province, could become the first province in Thailand to adopt a corruption-free approach, if you like. Most of the consuls agreed after years and years of battling that we weren't going to get anywhere on Phuket. We would have to go through Bangkok. Fortunately the Australian embassy, the British embassy and the European Union embassies have all banded together and taken a unilateral approach to the ministries in Bangkok to see if Phuket can be improved. I think Phuket has the best chance it's ever had now with the DSI here. Whether the DSI see through their task is the real test. I'm a bit wary because I have heard all these things in the past. 'Steps will be taken to improve Phuket' . . . and they just fade off into the distance.

'You Still Can't Park Your Car in Patong . . .'

WHEN YOU HAVE so many people coming here, you only need a small percentage to fall into trouble. Plus you never hear about a lot of the other things, either . . . the continued transport problems where you have excessive taxi fares, where you have aggressive taxi drivers, where you have monopolies . . . you still can't park your car in certain parts of Patong without getting your tyres slashed. I mean, this is ridiculous. Many government departments openly look to ask for bribes for things to be improved. You can't have a civilised society working like that.

Bring back Quality Tourists

IN MANY WAYS, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has been a very unsuccessful marketing organisation. Large numbers of Chinese, Russians and Indians only usually stay a few days. We really need the Europeans to come back to Phuket. They were the ones who originally discovered it. We really need these people to come back because they spend money here, and they will stay for a longer period of time. They will contribute to the economy. The others come on package tours, they spend three hours at breakfast, they stay in their rooms, no money is flowing into the Thai economy. It's not the quantity, it's the quality.

Ban Development for Five Years

THIS IS THE big test. I would like to see a blanket ban on any further development on Phuket. Just stop it now. Most of the development is the low-so one or one-and-a-half star, two star, two-and-a-half star region. Stop developemt now, like they did in Bali, no more development for five years. This would give Phuket a chance to fix the infrastructure, stop it looking like a building site, and hopefully encourage those people we need to come back.

How to be an Honorary Consul

I KNEW THERE would be deaths. the first week after I was appointed, a young Australian girl drowned in a whitewater accident in Phang Nga. After that first week, I had second thoughts. Up to 50 Australians die on Phuket in a year, and perhaps 200 are arrested. The impact of having to console someone who has lost a family member - especially a child - has had a substantial effect on me. I remember every single one of those.

Dealing With Phuket's Police

I HAVE SOME very very good friends on Phuket's police force. I have some others who don't like me much because of, it's probably fair to say, my aggressive assistance to Australians in trouble. We have systematic extortion of Australians holidaying or working here. They are ones who draw my ire the most. In some instances, there are several police here who feel their level of income is being impacted by my being here and are very aggressive, impolite and certainly undiplomatic.

Those Big Bellied Phuket Taxi Drivers

WHAT CAN you say? Like all the resort operators on Phuket, we're held captive by the taxi drivers outside. Held captive. If you're staying at my resort and want to go elephant trekking tomorrow, the elephant trekking company cannot come and pick you up. They will be barred from entering by the taxi drivers. Now if ever you wanted an example of how corruption thrives on Phuket, this is it. These taxi drivers set up, on government land, outside every resort on Phuket, and hold them captive. It's not only the fact that they are there - I'd welcome an efficient taxi service where people wore uniforms and were polite and did not abuse guests when they don't take the taxis. But unfortunately we have some people walking around with no shirts, their big bellies hanging down over their belts, piddling against the wall, burning rubbish, and speaking aggressively and abusively to our guests and other guests from other resorts, and also charging extortionate prices - six times what the fares are in Bangkok.

Promote the New Phuket

THE MOST successful promotion they ever had was 'Amazing Thailand.' Take Phuket away from Thailand, make it 'the New Phuket.' Have you been to the New Phuket? What is the New Phuket? The New Phuket is no extortionate taxi fares, no building sites, easier road transport . . . welcome to the New Phuket. This is what we need to attract the Europeans to come back.

Highlights of being an Hon Con

THE HIGHLIGHTS ARE Probably something as simple as a letter or an email from someone I have helped. Those sorts of things are highlights. In many ways it's a thankless job that you do for free. If your work is appreciated, those simple letters of thanks are really why you do it.

Text of Today's Media Release

Mr Larry Cunningham, Australia's Honorary Consul in Phuket, will retire on 30 September 2013. Mr Cunningham was designated as Honorary Consul in 2005 and has been in the position formally since October 2007.

The Australian Ambassador to Thailand, Mr James Wise, has paid tribute to Mr Cunningham.

''Australia could not have wished for a more committed and energetic honorary consul,'' he said.

''The numbers of Australians visiting Phuket in recent years has risen enormously, and so has the demand for consular services. Mr Cunningham has responded quickly, effectively and compassionately to this growing demand.

''Australian visitors as well as long-term residents have valued his contribution very highly. He has managed their day-to-day concerns efficiently.

''In addition, he has strongly and sympathetically supported Australians who have faced complex and sometimes tragic circumstances.

''No matter the time of day or night, or the nature of the problem or emergency, Mr Cunningham was willing to help.''

Mr Wise also paid tribute to Mr Cunningham's efforts to improve the safety and wellbeing of all tourists in Phuket.

''Mr Cunningham is an enthusiastic advocate for Phuket. He knows that Phuket will prosper only if tourists and residents continue to feel safe and welcomed there.

''has worked tirelessly to draw to the attention of authorities any issues of concern.''

Mr Wise also acknowledged the assistance of Mr Cunningham's Thai staff, who have supported him as Honorary Consul. Their efforts are also deeply appreciated.

Mr Cunningham will continue to be part of the Phuket community, dividing his time between Phuket and Australia, where he will now have more time to spend with his family.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Mr Cunnngham hepled my family 2 years ago in a polite and profession manner. Funny thing happened when I tried to make an appointment through his staff. They don't refer to him as Larry. For obvious Asian reasons. Best wishes to him in the future.

Posted by gee on September 2, 2013 14:50

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Very sad for Phuket as it may be nail in a coffin to have an the best outspoken advocate against corruption and bad behaviors of the local clans/mafias to cheat foreigners as much they can at the expenses of honest Thai people and expats.
Perhaps others Honorary consuls in Phuket may follow his path in order to give a good wake-up!!!

Posted by Whistle-Blower on September 2, 2013 14:58

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I reckon there'll be a lot of glasses raised in different places tonight to celebrate Mr Cunningsham resign.

You did a fantastic job and we can only hope that your replacement will be as hard as you were.

Cheers.

Posted by Nicke on September 2, 2013 15:01

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To Larry Cunningham: Thank you, Sir. Your efforts over the past 8 years have benefited all expats living or visiting Phuket. You deserve a break from this arduous & often thankless role. Again many thanks for your proactive approach. It has been much appreciated by all.

Posted by Logic on September 2, 2013 15:05

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I feel many of the things Mr. Cunningham suggests are reasobale and appropriate...BUT...I find problematic if somebody who developed a resort is NOW demanding that others are not allowed (for sometime). Just a thought.

Posted by Graham on September 2, 2013 16:28

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BIG shoes to fill, I hope they can find someone. Well done Larry, have a very long, happy retirement

Posted by DSI Watch on September 2, 2013 16:28

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Larry it sounds as though many still need you. Will you be making a comeback some day like Kevin Rudd, shall we watch this space?

Posted by Fiesty Farang on September 2, 2013 16:35

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Graham, it's ok to build, intelligence is knowing when there is enough, I find your comment just a little, um lacking almost spiteful.

Posted by DSI Watch on September 2, 2013 17:03

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On Ya Mate......

Posted by Billabong on September 2, 2013 19:30

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I think the Australian's will have a hard time finding a replacement anywhere close to Larry Cunningham. Decent man with forthright morals and the ability to tackle each issue objectively.

Hope he enjoys his retirement for he certainly has earned it. Would also be nice to see the Australian Government honour Mr. Cunningham for excellent services rendered.

Posted by Graham on September 2, 2013 21:07

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Thank you Mr Cunningham for your hard work, dedication and the excellence of your work as a volunteer.
Now is the time for my country to set up a full time, staffed consulate on Phuket.

Posted by Arthur on September 4, 2013 14:56

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My French background would say "BRAVO" you did a fantastic job ,many thanks for your honest approach . i hope this will help for better Phuket and government will not take as a critic .We all like Phuket and happy to live here.

Posted by Jean Louis Wassermann on June 27, 2014 19:12


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