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A tourist and an Isarn dancer on Phuket: Do either of them count?

Phuket's Census Cash Crunch: How Many Expats?

Monday, July 5, 2010
News Analysis

DO EXPAT residents count? What effect do the island's 100,000 Burmese have on Phuket's health service? Why are the facilities and Phuket's infrastructure not as good as they should be?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to Phuket making progress has been the mean budget allocation from Bangkok. The budget is based on the needs of the 320,000 registered Thai citizens of Phuket - estimated to be about 50 percent of the actual Thai population.

Add the thousands of tourists and legal and illegal Burmese, and Phuket's population probably tops one million in high season calendar months . . .

GOVERNOR Wichai Praisa-ngob has spent the past few days in Bangkok, battling to boost Phuket's budget allocation. And now comes the province's own census, first of its kind in all of Thailand, with the aim of delivering a realistic and accurate account of just who lives on Phuket.

Stand by to be counted.

The census-takers began work on July 1 and reckon that a full count will take about a month.

Confusion about numbers also keeps Phuket's police force small and inadequate, without the support of an army of volunteers.

It also means there can only ever be speculation about the total number of expats living on the island . . . because they do not figure in budget allocations. Are there 50,000, or 30,000?

How many Burmese live here, using medical resources, yet often without paying tax?

Budgets have also been bungled regularly. For some projects, the money becomes available before permission has been granted. And by the time that permission actually comes through, the grant expiry date has arrived.

In other cases, objections from the Natural Resources and Environment Department or the Forests Department have to be overcome before road projects can proceed.

Last year, Phuket's budget was, remarkably, the 72nd smallest of Thailand's 76 provinces. Yet the income stream from the island's tourism industry is massive. That's the most telling indication of the commitment by the Thai government to promote tourism.

Is it any wonder that the island's attempt to compete with other tourist destinations in the region is handicapped by a lack of international-standard basics?

Governing a country without reliable statistical information is a recipe for certain failure.

If Phuket's current bid to become the site for World Expo 2020 is going to succeed, authorities will need to build a public transport system for an island that has a growing population of more than one million, not one for a mere 320,000 registered citizens.

In many areas of government, transparencies is helping to break down some of the misconceptions about where the money goes. An accurate set of figures from the start would also help to expose corruption.

Using realistic figures for statistics would also destroy the notion that Phuket is somehow more dangerous - the island is said to have larger HIV infection rates and a higher road toll - when the comparisons are based on a false number of residents.

Phuketwan was in the office with one of Governor Wichai's predecessors on the day he learned that the budget he had asked for from Bangkok had been slashed in half. Such unfairness has a profoundly negative effect on the island - and its administrators.

The governor's aim to add realism to the budget allocations for Phuket is a timely piece of logical administration. It deserves wholehearted support.

Put your hand up, for Phuket's sake.
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


A very laudable effort but it is a pity that the census is conducted in July/August when most expats with children are on holiday abroad and when at least one fourth of all expat residents are NOT on Phuket and thus cannot be counted.

Posted by Dirk Naumann on July 5, 2010 11:19


How is it that the Immigration Dept., with its severe reporting schedule and meticulous paper-copy appetite, has no idea how many expatriates are living here?
Why do I file an address every 90 days?

Posted by Ripley on July 5, 2010 12:25


"Last year, Phuket's budget was, remarkably, the 72nd smallest of Thailand's 76 provinces."

That is obscene. As much money as Phuket brings in, one would think that the government would want to make sure that the upkeep of the place was properly funded.

Maybe the big boys in Bangkok do not like Phuket and a tiny budget is their way of getting back at them.

Posted by Anonymous on July 5, 2010 12:35


Once again I agree with Dirk and Ripley's comments. The left elbow does not know what the right hand is doing?

Good effort but what will it prove, just check the visa records, chaps, should be easy?

Posted by Robin on July 5, 2010 20:19


Valiant effort for the census. About time too. This comes with a big BUT!
The authorities in Thailand are fanatical about keeping paperwork and documents, right, so how hard would it be to check the visas of those reporting every 90 days to do address updates at immigration? Then there are the modern thinkers who wonder why all information is not data captured on a very big computer so everybody has access to this information? Only thinking out loud.

Posted by Graham on July 5, 2010 21:29

Editor Comment:

A house-to-house census is far more significant than a general numbers count. An accurate census tells the authorities who is living where, and where the pressure points are for various social needs. Nothing beats going door-to-door, provided there are relevant questions to be answered.


Mr Editor, I do concur with your comment in the green box.
Thank you.

Posted by Graham on July 6, 2010 13:21


There was a story a few years ago about a new computer system in Phuket for the immigration authorities. Didn't that materialise? Emperor's new clothes, perhaps? Charged a fortune for a box with a few twinkly lights on it, money in back pocket...

Posted by Dan Keschern on July 6, 2010 23:15

Editor Comment:

The new Immigration centre in Phuket City has brought vast improvements. And we understood that computer links and shared data among various authorities would be the next step. There was a report at one stage that there were 18,000 expat residents of Phuket, which seemed to be smaller number than most people reckoned.


How about not only a count from the Immigration Dept. but also from the Labor Dept.?

At the end of the day the Thai Departments need to better communicate with each other. I know it's easier said than done, but it needs to start some where.

Posted by Charles P. on July 7, 2010 11:14


Why not make it compulsory for both Thais & Expats to register in Phuket whenever working here? This could be implemented directly through the employers without too much of bureaucracy or large effort & cost by conducting a census. And it could certainly help Phuket to get a fairer share of tax revenue.

Another effect of up-to-date registration would be that more ordinary people are entitled to take part in Phuket's elections. As of now, mostly native Phuket citizens and Thais who are owning property are registered and therefore able to vote in Phuket. The interests of ordinary Thais working here may differ from those of landlords and a better representation could also help to solve some of the current issues such as public transportation.

In order to pay for infrastructure used by tourists - wasn't there a room tax of 1% introduced to be paid by all hotels in Phuket?

Posted by Anonymous on July 7, 2010 19:00


Is that true? Phuket ranks only at number 72 out of 76 provinces, in terms of how much budget is allocated?

That is the most ludicrous situation I have ever heard!! I also understand that Samui suffers from a similar 'shortfall' because it is but one amphur in Surat Thani province.

If nothing else, these statistics clearly indicate the total lack of interest by central government in investing in Phuket as a world-class tourist destination.

Posted by Simon Luttrell on July 7, 2010 21:34


Perhaps an explanation for lack of adequate funds is Phuket has a large Muslim population and I believe this group is rather out of favor with the National Government, and this is reflected in the dole-outs.

Posted by Ripley on July 8, 2010 09:02

Editor Comment:

Religion has no bearing on the issue. Phuket and the region vote solidly Democrat. Phuket's best chance for a budget improvement comes under a Democrat-led government, but there are plenty of red provinces that may be seen as a more urgent priority right now.


Editor, you're right. Certain 'red' provinces will no doubt get the government's attention as the government tries to win over new voters. Sadly, since all the talk of Phuket getting its share under Democrat-rule, I see no improvement in the last 18 months or so than under Thaksin previously. Politics is exactly what it is... it follows no rules. Phuket will have to continue alone for a long time as no government is likely to pay attention to something they think works without their help.

Posted by Duncan on July 8, 2010 16:52

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