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Singapore taxi drivers follow the rules. On Phuket there are few rules

Planet Phuket Project: Making Tuk-Tuks, Taxis Fair

Monday, March 21, 2011
SINGAPORE taxi drivers are a little different to Phuket's taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. If they charge an extortionate fare or get out of line, they can be sacked within the space of an hour.

Aspiring to make Phuket corruption-free, Phuketwan paid a visit to the island nation to talk with Ora-orn Poocharoen, the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The highly-regarded school, which attracts scholars from around the world for its post-graduate research programs, aims to look more closely at some of Phuket's long-running problems in the hope of finding solutions.

Here's the conclusion of our interview with Ajarn Ora-orn:

Phuketwan: How do you start turning an island from a corrupt place to a not-corrupt place?

Ajarn Ora-orn: I guess that's where leadership comes in. You need somebody who is totally committed to see this through for the next 20 years. A training program will have to be designed and started. Somebody will have to provide funding. Somebody is going to put their strategy and resources into curbing one of the most controversial aspects of corruption of the island. I guess leadership is a key. If we have to wait for a breaking point in society, I don't think that's good, where people are coming out to protest and be very radical . . . that might not be good.

Phuketwan: With Singapore, did corruption end under Lee Kuan Yew as a one man thing, or was it more than just one man?

Ajarn Ora-orn: In my view it was pretty much a one-man thing, but a smart-man thing. He surrounded himself with only people who were good, reliable and smart. So it wasn't him who was controlling everyone. He was relying on advice from everyone. So he was smart in that sense. But of course, if somebody was so different and opposed his opinions, then of course, they wouldn't be on his team. Dissent hinders the decision making process. You don't value diversity. You value people who are on your team and looking to move in the same direction.

Phuketwan: Lee is viewed differently now to the way he was looked at 20 years ago. The view has changed radically in his favor. Twenty years ago, most people in the West were not fans.

Ajarn Ora-orn: Sure, authoritarian, lack of freedom of expression. Even now still . . . but people might not have the justification for complaining when everything seems to be working perfectly fine. The system is working.

Phuketwan: People who achieve prosperity will tolerate a lot. Look at Brunei. Basically one family benefits extremely at the expense of everybody else, but because everybody else is being cared for at a much higher level than previously, Brunei people are reasonably content to let the family have their way.

Ajarn Ora-orn: For Singapore, I think because the sources of income is more varied than Burnei, Singapore is pretty much a finance city and every other sector as well, IT, science, research, education . . . so I think the economy is diverse enough in that sense.

Phuketwan: Singapore seems to be adapting to vast numbers of overseas workers as well. That would be a real test for most societies.

Ajarn Ora-orn: It's still a test but Singapore's leaders are very clear to say that they're here for our economy and if there is a financial crisis, the overseas workers will leave.

Phuketwan: One of the perceived problems on Phuket, whether it's an actual problem to the same degree that gets reported, is a sense that some Thais are intent on ripping off the tourists. Certainly quite a few expat residents have formed this view that greed is a big motivation. There is a sense that it doesn't matter if you offend someone, there will always be other tourists to replace them.

Ajarn Ora-orn: That's certainly not the case in Singapore. If you get into a taxi, and you are asked for more money than you should be, you can make one phone call, and within an hour that person will be sacked. It's that fast, you know. It is that fast. Because the Singapore system is like that, people know that they will be punished for things that they do wrong. So people just don't do it. The law is enforceable.

Phuketwan: On Phuket there is the situation where they have too many tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, all charging extortionate rates, and when challenged about it, they say: 'We have to charge these rates because some of these drivers only get one fare a day.' Many of them, having charged a ridiculous amount for one small trip, sit around all day, doing very little at all.

Ajarn Ora-orn: That sounds like a market mechanism. Maybe it is because someone is willing to pay?

Phuketwan: Tourists are on occasions willing to pay. There is no alternative. I mean, if you want to get from A to B . . .

Ajarn Ora-orn: So it's not the market. It's a monopoly. Because it's a monopoly they can keep the price high and work one round, and have a day's earnings. That's good for them. They can use their time to do something else. But the monopoly needs to be broken if it is going to be more fair to the consumer.

Phuketwan: I don't know how you do that. That's one of the perennial issues on Phuket. The tuk-tuk drivers are one of the prime sources of complaints from tourists. Prices, attitude . . . nobody has had the courage to compete. There was a bus service that started once between Patong and Karon but the driver got beaten up, and that was the end of that.

Ajarn Ora-orn: How easy is it to get a tuk-tuk license? Can anybody get it? Maybe there's a need to look at regulation, who gets allowed to enter. Here, cab drivers have to train for over three months. They need to pass an exam. They need to be trained for their attitude. They tell you all essential information in advance, so there is no miscommunication. They will all say exactly the same thing. If you have something to put in the back trunk, they will always come out to help you. The expectation is so clear, and all of that is through regulation of the licencing, who gets to drive, and who cannot drive.

Phuketwan: The prices on Phuket are six times the prices in other parts of Thailand. One of the frustrations of the tuk-tuk and taxi monopoly on Phuket is that every Thai family has to provide their own transport, so some large families might have four or five motorcycles for short trips and two large cars for longer trips. Roads are under huge pressure. Every resort needs its own bus system to bring its workers to work. Jet-skis are another problem. The previous governor tried a world-first insurance system, but that no longer really works. We have suggested the Navy should take charge and patrol the beaches. The military does need to protect national security. But the more people go away with the right impression of Thailand, the better.

Ajarn Ora-orn: Little by little, the more people can realise that having long-term sustainable development is important, the better. Loving your land is the most important thing, and wanting to have it for future generations.

Phuketwan: That's the current problem with the reefs. Some guides haven't been taught how to handle situations where tourists stand on the reefs or try to souvenir pieces of the reefs, so they just let it happen. Phuket's problems are all very immediate. The island probably has five years to address some of these things. I can be proved wrong, I hope.

Ajarn Ora-orn: The good thing about this is that the LKY students have to produce a policy paper. That will be useful for someone. We have 60 students each year, a troop of researchers, waiting for a good research project.

Phuketwan: You can send them all to Phuket. Phuket has 60 problems they could begin looking at right now. (laughter.)

Talks are underway for the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy to begin sending post-graduate scholars to Phuket to research answers for corruption and other Phuket problems.
Planet Phuket Project: Crunching Corruption
The Quest for Answers Phuket has the offer of expert help now to prepare the island for a corruption free future, necessary to achieve fairness and balance for future generations.
Planet Phuket Project: Crunching Corruption

The Planet Phuket Project: Hunt for a Lee Kuan Yew Solution
The Quest for Answers Phuket and its melting pot of people and problems may become a study case for some of the brightest public policy students in the region. We'll tell you what happens next.
The Planet Phuket Project: Hunt for a Lee Kuan Yew Solution

Planet Phuket Project: How Phuket Went Wrong
The Quest for Answers Clarity is being sought to solve Phuket's problems with some help from scholars at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Planet Phuket Project: How Phuket Went Wrong

The Planet Phuket Project: Crunching Island Corruption
The Quest for Answers Phuket has the offer of expert help now to prepare the island for a corruption free future, necessary to achieve fairness and balance for future generations.
The Planet Phuket Project: Crunching Island Corruption

Dear PM, Please Make Phuket Corruption-Free
Latest Happy Birthday, Mr Prime Minister. Here's a gift to you, an idea that could make Phuket and perhaps Thailand better places. Start your fight against corruption here, on one small island.
Dear PM, Please Make Phuket Corruption-Free

Phuket Corruption: Enough, Say Patong Victims
Photo Album A public seminar on Phuket has senior officials revealing the scale of existing corruption among 14 government bodies - and attempts by more to join in.
Phuket Corruption: Enough, Say Patong Victims


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Fine sentiments, but, what is the point?
Yes, they send students that point out the problem, but, then what?
Unless people with real power are willing to make difficult decisions, nothing will change.
Unfortunately, it's the people with real power that are the root causes of Phuket's problems.

Posted by Sir Burr on March 21, 2011 12:38

Editor Comment:

Attempting to find practical answers and role models is better than acquiescing and hoping that solutions will emerge from a chatroom one of these years, Sir Burr. Knowing where the problems lie is easy. Offering realistic solutions is not so easy.


Interesting article....nice interview with nice answers and possible solutions....but it's all pointless....Corruption rules this place...those in power are corrupt and the only way it will change is if the corruption affects someone with greater power a negative way..Then maybe they will force changes but until then, you can forget about it.....How many times have we heard these grand ideas...??...and every month another story comes out about a tuk tuk or jet ski rip off....Who is kidding who ??

Posted by sky on March 21, 2011 13:16

Editor Comment:

OK sky, let's forget about it. Let's close down Phuketwan, let's head for a peaceful life somewhere ''nice,'' as it's your favorite adjective. Will that make you happier? Or is it your intention to continue your nihilism, to damn with faint praise, and to go on leading the life of a do-nothing doomsdayer forever? Who is kidding who . . . or who is kidding themselves?


Editor Comment:

Attempting to find practical answers and role models is better than acquiescing and hoping that solutions will emerge from a chatroom one of these years, Sir Burr. Knowing where the problems lie is easy. Offering realistic solutions is not so easy.

But, everyone already knows the problems and their solutions.
It's lack of implementation that is the problem.

Posted by Sir Burr on March 21, 2011 13:54

Editor Comment:

Sounds like a classic excuse to never do anything about anything, Sir Burr. Just another way to say ''This is Thailand.'' Perhaps the psychology of inaction should be a research project?


Ajarn Ora-orn: It's still a test but Singapore's leaders are very clear to say that they're here for our economy and if there is a financial crisis, the overseas workers will leave.
When will Phuket Labor Department crack down on illegal workers in Phuket?

Posted by Whistle-Blower on March 21, 2011 14:35


It's a great interview but one where most are aware of the problems with no one willing or able to fix them.

I've said this before, the Gov recently said there were "no dark influences" behind the JetSkis and again, the question is; "If there are none why can't it be stopped?"

If what the Gov said is true and most find this most unlikely then the question begs to be asked; "Is the current Gov the right man for the job?" Does he have the necessary skills, authority and resolved to implement change?

Most foreigners view Thailand as a place of corruption, murder and cover-ups. We are all aware that this is not an image that can produce long term benefits for the country and it's people. However, when most of the country's wealth is controlled by so few and that votes are so easily bought, you then have to ask why would these people want change because change would be detrimental to their personal wealth.

It all comes down to one factor 'Education'. The education for the main stream population is poor to say the least and until education is bought to a level where the 'VOTE' does mean some and does matter then the current situation of corrupt control will continue.

We all know, for the Singapore experience, that change is not impossible but while the minority (which means there is no democracy) rule this will sadly continue.

Posted by Graham on March 21, 2011 15:21

Editor Comment:

Most foreigners don't view Thailand as a place of corruption, murder and cover-ups. If that was accurate, there would be no tourism industry. It's simply not true. Most people view Thailand as an ideal holiday destination. And not much has ever changed with elections.


Ed...Why are you afraid of the truth?...The fact is...and no one can deny it as the facts are clear and history keeps repeating itself....Corruption exists continues to exist, nothing changes, sweet talk keeps happening with all sorts of wonderful dreams as to how it will be fixed and it keeps on keeping on....Nihilism you say???...Give me a break! It's simply the truth....It's going to take a major overhaul to get this place on the right track and you know it just as much as I do...Do you see it happening anytime soon?...What dream world are you living in?

Posted by sky on March 21, 2011 17:14

Editor Comment:

Why not work towards change, sky? Your philosophical acceptance of the status quo shows the scale of your courage. Truth? The truth is, you wouldn't know how to do something positive. And that's the continuing shame of so many doom-saying ''chatpats.'' This is the new word for expats who do nothing but talk.


For a short time I thought, Thaksin to be the man. So sad, how that turned out. And now it seems like ruling Bangkok cannot do anything in Phuket (someone know anything more about the secret police action concerning the taxis from last year?). Like someone need the thugs happy, as they can turn red...

Corruption individually can be a comfortable thing, but if a society does not know and accept boundaries - like a kid - it cannot feel happy.

And sometimes Phuketwan optimism is really inspiring. After so many years now, I am worn down, and normally would shrug my shoulders, as the solutions seem easy.

The thing with the "realistic" solution is a little bit funny, as it normally means jumping short and achieving nothing. Anyone remember: parking at the beach road, jet ski insurance, attitude of tuktuk drivers, counter suing the victim? One thing that comes to mind is the mediation thing, but it does not work with the hardened elements of Phuket jet-ski scamsters.

Posted by Lena on March 21, 2011 17:44


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

Do you believe it is possible for a foreigner to tell a Thai they are doing it wrong, to somehow persuade them to stop making money by fair means or foul. I would truely like to see it done.

I am not saying change cannot happen I simply realise that here is very little I or any other foreigner can do to stop the rot on Phuket. It has to be their decision and that decision will only come about when the flow of cash to them stops.

Posted by Soupdragon on March 21, 2011 17:55

Editor Comment:

You say you can only do a little, so what little are you doing?


Well I was going to start a newspaper to spread the word that things can change if we all do a bit, but then I would have to deal with all the pesky readers comments saying that the situation is hopeless. So I will leave that up to you :)

Posted by Soupdragon on March 21, 2011 21:32


I enjoy these interviews and questions posed by PhuketWan because they so accurately describe Phuket problems.

I hope Phuket leaders read them too.

Interesting to see that after a trip to Singapore PhuketWan seems to favor enforcement after all. That's very welcome.

The suggested solutions are just common sense but realism tells us that short of a Messiah landing on Phuket, they are quite unlikely to be implemented.

This is not to say one should not try to do their utmost to bring about change but as foreigners we have limited means.

Kudos for setting up PhuketWan and pitching in. It has had an impact and I'm grateful for that.

For many foreigners the main hurdle is when you start to try to have the law enforced, a lot of anti-foreigner sentiment starts flying your way.

Thais in general don't like anyone telling them what to do or not to do and certainly not if it's a foreigner.

For example the Jet-Ski complaints to the police who help nothing and are just in cahoots with the Jet-Ski operators.

After over 1y of frustration about certain Thai people around my house burning garbage on constant basis I finally confronted them today. As expected, I was told to f**k off. I tried anyway.

I took pictures from various locations and will go to the OrBorJor tomorrow to file a complaint.

What I am worried about however are the repercussions of my actions. Will I find my car tires slashed, my dog poisoned or do I get beaten up ?

Would not be the first time it has happened, even to me, let alone to others.

So yes, we should all try to do something to change things for the better but it often carries considerable risks.

I was assaulted once before for a similar reason and though I have the whole incident on video, the police has taken no action in these 2 years. The person who ordered the attack is connected to the local police here.

It will not stop me from doing what I set out today to do but I admit I am seriously concerned about my safety after I do.

I invite everyone to watch the video of my attack who think my concerns are unfounded.

Posted by Chris on March 22, 2011 00:17


'Chatpat' how about 'Bratpat'? Fact is, we are 'guests' here. It is up to the Thais to change their system. After 7 years I'm much happier accepting this and winning my own battles when I can but always with a smile and over the top niceness. I had to say no to 8 Tuk tuk drivers that wanted to charge 250baht from the bus station to Samkong, I walked across the street and got one for 150baht. Why didn't I call the number and report the 'overcharge', afraid of the consequences like Chris. I still find (sometimes having to look very hard) the magic that remains in Thailand. I hope someone in high places listens, they want to model themselves after Singapore... sounds like it took a huge commitment. I'm rooting for you, Thailand.

Posted by Jon on March 22, 2011 10:21


@ Chris

I believe Thai society is immune to positive change, and a farang is the last person to be able to change that. Sit back, relax and watch a society self-destruct - or pack your bags and leave. I don't think there's anything in between we can do.

P.S. I left.

Posted by Tourist by Profession on March 22, 2011 11:54

Editor Comment:

It's not acceptable in the 21st century to make general comments about specific groups that are not true. If you only met Thais of that kind, then your living style must have been extremely limited. To say that ''Thai society is immune to positive change'' is another misguided and myopic viewpoint.


@ Ed.
Wrong assumptions. But may your illusions remain intact.

Posted by Tourist by Profession on March 22, 2011 13:20

Thursday December 9, 2021
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