Could Phuket Become a Special Administrative Region?
Having lived in Phuket for a number of years now, trying to recall the names and faces of past governors is a bit like remembering past seasons of Survivor or American Idol. At times, I'm almost expecting to see a real life "where are they now?" segment.
Viewing Phuket's increasing role as a national leader in tax collection, industry and tourism, you have to look at the one thing that both Bangkok and Pattaya have but is missing in Phuket. It is that they are both "special administrative regions" (SARs) with the power to elect rather than appoint their own political headman. They also enjoy far greater autonomy over key issues such as zoning, building regulations and approvals, transportation/roadways, utilities and the environment – more or less all the fundamental issues important to those residing here on Phuket.
For the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), the governor is elected for four-year terms and may run for re-election. What gives the position its teeth is not only the powers that are accorded to politically appointed governors, but also the mandate to formulate specific policy, the ability to appoint deputies, advisors and civil servants along with drafting legislation for the SAR.
While the public and private sectors fairly align goals, a number of things are always clear in any strategic vision or long term planning; consistency, the establishment of a party line in keeping with the goals and having a stake in the results you get. The election of a Phuketian to the office of governor brings with it a certain amount of accountability. Phuket is a fairly small island and there can be no escaping the consequences of critical decisions when your political welfare is in the hands of the voters.
While I have no intention of entering into political debate or venturing into current affairs, I would say that in considering Phuket's future, it is important to recognize models of government that have already shown themselves to be effective. The current lack of direct mechanisms to react to declines in key economic indicators such as tourism, property, the service industry and investment (domestic and international), are important to the lives of nearly all who reside here. The hangover from the island's property and hospitality boom is evident everywhere you look.
While we all groan about lagging infrastructure, utilities, zoning, planning, security and the environment, perhaps greater emphasis on what solutions could be put in place would be a positive move. Turn back the clock to 1997 and Hong Kong's conversion to a special administrative region. Industry went back to work the next day, lives improved and the economic miracle of one of the hardest working nations on earth continued, as indeed it does today. Perhaps not the perfect analogy, but it does nevertheless provide a model of local working efficiency in terms of empowering those who live and reside in a place where they also do business.
While we might be years away from seeing a national consensus on the establishment of an SAR, this sort of thinking helps us to better understand private industry's vital role in developing alliances and common objectives to preserve, promote and develop the key economies of Phuket. Organizations such as IBAP, Rotary, SKAL, and the Thai Hotel Association assist that process. We hope this continues and grows as it bridges the gaps between local and foreign business people and helps get everyone on the same page.
In the meantime, we live in interesting times and whether you watch the international news, local news or just look around the corner from your house, things are moving at a pace that's often hard to keep up with. It is good to get off the couch, go out and join something, whether it's for business, pleasure or charity, and leave your own footprint here in the sand.