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Phuket's 'Parliament' gets set for another therapeutic session

Phuket's 'Parliament' Set for Lively Discussion

Monday, November 15, 2010
THANKS to Winai ''Jet-ski JJ'' Naiman, Annice Smoel and Simon Burrowes, Phuket now has a more effective structure for dealing with tourists in trouble on the holiday island. Expat residents are now also better protected, too.

The fourth meeting later this month involving new Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha, Phuket leaders and Phuket's honorary consuls and representatives proves the worth of what's steadily becoming a unique open ''parliament'' for a holiday island destination.

Jet-ski JJ, with damages claims and a gun in hand, Ms Smoel of stolen Patong beer barmat fame and Simon Burrowes, arrested for swearing at the airport as he tried to fly home, highlighted the kinds of problems visitors can experience unexpectedly on Phuket.

And the reason why there have been fewer ''international incidents'' since these three big dramas of 2009 lies in the honorary consuls' innovative gathering.

Unless you get into trouble, the identity of your Phuket honorary consul may not be obvious or necessary to find out. Most holidaymakers - some 99.9 percent - enjoy their Phuket holidays and return home happy.

But for visitors determined to enjoy a visit to Phuket to the full regardless, it is probably an idea to have the telephone number of the appropriate hon con tattooed onto a forearm soon after touchdown.

Larry Cunningham, the tall, forthright Aussie who devotes so much care to travellers that he sometimes feels that he manages the Chava Resort at Surin in his spare time, is the kind of guy you want on your side if the cell door suddenly shuts behind you in Patong's police station.

He realised his calling to become an hon con after the 2004 tsunami wasted the island, and Cunningham's Kalim office. It's what made him decide to carry on and build a resort, he told a gathering of international representatives from the Professional Investment Group of Companies in an inspirational speech to the group last month.

While Cunningham has a reputation for being confident, talk to him after he has broken the news about a death to a family or been inside Phuket Prison to help an Aussie falsely accused of pedophilia and you will find a sympathetic character who is always willing to listen.

''Too many people come on holidays and forget to pack their common sense,'' he says. It's simple, but true.

He and Dirk Naumann, Germany's no-nonsense honorary consul, have perhaps been at the forefront of the revolution in expat rights, although all the honorary consuls have played important roles.

Credit for the concept of the honorary consuls' meeting, though, goes to German Ambassador Dr Hanns H. Schumacher, who at first avoided Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob after the governor sent word he was going to turn up far too late for their first meeting last year.

Repairing the relationship helped to produce the accord that gave Phuket the quarterly honorary consul ''parliaments,'' with senior Thai leaders and Phuket's police especially anxious to hear what kinds of problems the island's key tourists are experiencing.

At the second meeting, Phuket Police Commander Pekad Tantipong unexpectedly produced the list of fatalities among the expats on Phuket, and updated it at the August meeting.

Along with that important list, which helped to dispel accumulated paranoia among expat residents, he also produced a list of expats who had been accused of crimes, and another of expat victims.

He also agreed to act as the go-to points man in dealing with the important issue of notifying honorary consuls and embassies whenever expats are involved in trouble.

What's more, he undertook to pursue police who break the law by holding the passports of visitors in cases where the allegations do not involve violence or drugs. The implication of police holding passports when they shouldn't is that officers might ask for money for the passport's return.

Major General Pekad agreed that bad police needed to be weeded out on Phuket.

Mr Cunningham called for action against impolite tuk-tuk and taxi drivers who were causing a nuisance to tourists at Surin, and for a female police officer to assist with Phuket cases involving attacks on female tourists.

A range of other topics have been discussed and pursued. British honorary consul Martin Carpenter has said that at the November 22 meeting, he hopes to push for a single telephone number for emergencies involving expats, where a guarantee can be provided that someone who speaks good English can be contacted around the clock.

It's even possible that in the future, the honorary consuls' meeting, which has expanded from the original 17 national representatives to include 22 countries, could be open to the public.

And it cold even include at future meetings representatives of such groups as the tuk-tuk drivers and the jet-ski operators, to hear directly what the tourists think.

Ambassador Dr Schumacher said: "I do have the impression that we have the ball rolling. The Governor has promised to institutionalise the meetings, so we have a permanent exchange of communication.''

Countries invited to send representatives are: Finland, Estonia, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Australia, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Netherlands, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, US and Japan.
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