A GROUP of prominent citizens greeted the opening of the Royal Norwegian Consulate on Phuket tonight with delight.
Rightly so. The newly-appointed Honorary Consul, Pornphan Sittichaivijit, has a full-time Consular Assistant, Sornpornwan Srikram, and five part-time helpers.
Norway's new consulate also has plenty of space. It's on the third floor of the MMB Building at 9/17 Moo 6, Thepkasattri Road, Phuket City.
The Norwegian Minister of the Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, attended the gathering, along with Ambassador Merete Fjeld Brattested, who is a frequent visitor to the island from Bangkok.
How beneficial it would be if Phuket had more consulates. Thousands of tourists would then have greater contact with officials who could help them directly, rather than attempting to conjure up assistance via overstressed or disinterested embassies in Bangkok.
Have you ever tried to call an embassy in Bangkok? If you are fortunate enough to be able to beat the telephone message in several languages, you will be extremely lucky to find help in a hurry.
Phuketwan's experience in contacting Bangkok embassies, (with one or two exceptions) is entirely negative. When people really need assistance, they need it close by.
People may say that the appointment of a new honorary consul for one country is hardly the time to argue a case for action by other countries. We would say, 'What better time is there?'
When the tsunami struck on December 26, 2004, citizens from the nations with honorary consulates on Phuket were much better served than those with embassies in Bangkok. It took Bangkok officials many hours, and in some cases days, to get here.
On an everyday basis, the number of tourists who visit Phuket justifies the presence of a greater number of consulates, and sensible upgradings of the kind tonight's celebration marked.
How will Phuket change for the better, from a tourist's point of view, unless there are people here who are using their eyes and ears to report what's happening?
Phuket's Governor, Wichai Praisa-ngob, was present at tonight's cheerful party. So was the Chief Justice of Phuket, Varangkana Sucharitakul, and the island's Chief of Police, Major Pikad Tantipong.
They will not be flying off to Bangkok in the morning to deal with other matters. They will be looking at Phuket's needs, and looking for advice on what tourists require from other people who are already on Phuket.
Those who listen to the needs of their constituencies on Phuket will continue to be powerful advocates for change on the island. Like it or not, Phuket happens to be uniquely different from the rest of Thailand.
Strangely, the British, the Australians and the Germans, all with large numbers of visitors to Phuket, make do with less than adequate representation and support on Phuket.
All three countries have large numbers of visitors coming to the Andaman, and inadequate representation.
Perhaps Australia, Britain and Germany are busier opening consulates in China or India, or other places where national interest dictaces they should have a presence.
What about Phuket?
We would argue that a country's representatives should be as close as possible to where their citizens are, which is why the Norwegian appointment deserves praise. It's an improvement that should be noted and followed by other nations.
The consulate is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Telephone: 076 237156 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org