* Govt outlines plans but doubts over execution remain
* Foreign businesses here to stay but want flood defences
* Ministers begin to put flesh on the bones of flood plan
By Ploy Ten Kate
BANGKOK, Jan 19 Thailand is racing to
implement water management schemes costing 300 billion baht
($9.4 billion) to prevent a repeat of last year's flood
disaster, but companies want to see even more haste while some
experts say things shouldn't be rushed.
Thailand's worst flooding in at least five decades forced
the closure of seven industrial estates in central provinces
from October last year, causing billions of dollars of damage
and putting about 650,000 people temporarily out of work.
Many factories have still not reopened but industrialists
are already worrying about the next rainy season, barely four
months away, and want the government to start acting on
specific, concrete plans rather than outline broad ideas.
"We still have faith in the government and what they're
trying to achieve," said Setsuo Iuchi, president of JETRO
Thailand, the local arm of Japan External Trade Organisation.
"I rather believe that people want to be here and keep on
investing but, yes, we can't deny that more clear-cut actions by
the government have to be made."
Companies like Hana Microelectronics Pcl and
Aapico Hitech Pcl, whose plants were inundated, have
called on the government to come up with both short-term
remedies and long-term solutions to prevent future floods.
Only one or two companies, such as U.S.-based chip maker ON
Semiconductor Corp, have said they are closing
facilities completely after suffering from the floods.
Some big names have announced sizable investments to either
restore old plants or build new ones.
This week alone, Toyota Motor Corp said it would
spend 8.2 billion baht to build a new plant and restart one
closed in 2010, and fellow Japanese firm Minebea
Co Ltd, a bearing maker, said it would invest $75
million to build a new plant.
PLAN TAKES SHAPE
Deputy Prime Minister and incoming Finance Minister Kittirat
Na Ranong outlined water management plans last weekend involving
seven projects, including flood prevention measures along the
Chao Phraya river that flows from the north and through Bangkok.
It involves reforestation, the construction of dams and
reservoirs and city planning. "We have to move quickly. This
cannot wait," he said.
One of the seven projects is a 10 billion baht plan to plant
trees and build dikes along upstream tributaries of the Chao
Phraya. Another, costing 50 billion baht, involves the
construction of reservoirs in the river basins where the floods
Other projects include the building of floodways in 2
million rai (800,000 acres) of farmland plus irrigation systems,
the cleaning-up of canals and waterways and establishing a data
system for water management.
Some 120 billion baht is earmarked for the construction of
floodways and flood diversion channels, with work this year
involving the improvement of dikes, sluice gates and canals.
"I'm not that confident these projects would work," said
Chaiyuth Sukhsri, head of the Water Resources Engineering
Department at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
"The time period for formulating this plan is very, very
short. It usually takes a lot of time to analyse these things,"
he said, adding that the social impact of the plans seemed to
have been ignored completely.
Even so, Chaiyuth noted that rains could be heavy this year
because of the La Nina effect.
Some analysts say erratic climate patterns are complicating
things for policymakers.
For example, it is becoming more difficult for dam managers
to make judgments based on previous weather patterns. Water
discharged too late and in huge volume from northern dams was,
for some analysts, a big factor behind the disaster last year.
DIKES AROUND ESTATES
Last week the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand
(IEAT), under the Ministry of Industry, outlined a plan to build
permanent dikes up to 6.5 metres (21 feet) high around the seven
industrial estates forced to shut by floods last year.
"We now have a plan for building a permanent dike designed
by the Engineering Institute of Thailand using statistics of
flooding events in the past 100 years," Vithoon Simachokdee,
permanent secretary of the Ministry of Industry said.
Each estate will adapt the proposed dike to its own
circumstances and can apply for loans from the Government
Savings Bank, which has a credit line of 15 billion baht
offering loans at 0.01 percent over seven years.
The aim is for the work to be completed in August, Vithoon
Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, chairwoman of Toshiba Corporation's
Thai unit, said the Bangkadi industrial estate, of
which she is also chairwoman, would have a dike up to 6 metres
high in place in September. Last year it was inundated with up
to 4.3 metres of floodwater.
"Flood-affected companies and industrial estates are doing
what they can to defend themselves better, but of course we
can't do it entirely without the government's help," Kobkarn
"If the factories and industrial estates are safe from
floods but our staff's homes are submerged, they won't be able
to come to work anyway. We need the government to support us,"
Toshiba had to halt operations at nine of its 10 production
plants at Bangkadi and one in Nava Nakorn Pcl estate
in Pathum Thani province in the north of Bangkok.
It may take a year for some to be up and running
($1 = 31.775 baht)
(Additional reporting by Pisit Changplayngam; Editing by Alan