Saturday, 16th March 2013
THAI GOVERNMENT TO INVESTIGATE ALL PHUKET PROPERTY OWNERSHIP TITLES – In under 30 years the island of Phuket, Thailand in the Andaman sea has been transformed from an idyllic tropical paradise to a sprawling mass of villas, condominiums, hotels and other commercial buildings and without any discernible control or regard for the environment.
In 2012 the Thai Government took measure to investigate allegations of illegal encroachment, mainly being perpetrated by corrupt business people and government officials.
The investigation started out with just one property being investigated after local got tired on powerful business people bribing land officials to forge documents for the acquisition of public land, mainly in National Nature Reserves.
This initial investigation quickly turned into 14 other land parcels coming under scrutiny, but in late 2012 the Chief Investigating Officer retired and locals feared that powerful influences has interjected the investigations and that this would be the last the people would hear of anyone being investigated, let alone being brought to book for their illegal activities.
The Thai Government, however, step into the media and announced that far from this situation being swept under the carpet, it is to be extended so that a ‘special investigation team’ will examine ALL property ownership titles.
Soon after the announcement the Permanent Secretary of the Interior Ministry, Pracha Rasopdee, visited Phuket and took the Governor and Land officials to on-going building sites that are suspected of encroachment on National Park Land.
At a meeting later that day Pracha Rasopdee provided evidence of a few serious cases of encroachment, one were a title for agricultural land of 0.25 acres has been doctored by officials that ballooned the land base over 3.5 kilometers of prime Phuket coastline.
When considering that this is just one case of outrageous abuse of office and position the investigation, if undertaken openly and honestly, will no doubt unravel a web of deceit and corruption spanning decades.
The investigators do have their work cut out but locals and conservationists are saying that now is the time to put a stop to the madness as this will inevitably destroy tourism as Phuket becomes a mass of concrete.
The Thai Government is hoping that the success of this project could be rolled out across Thailand where other areas are under threat from greedy business people and corrupt officials. In 1952 it was estimated that 78% was covered in jungle, and today those estimates have dropped below 22%, such is the extent of encroachment.
Corruption from Thai Authorities is nothing new in Thailand and it is widely accepted, by other officials and the public, that graft is normal practice. However the is a growing group who feels that the level of corruption and the influence that the rich wield is out of control and most believe you can even murder someone and get away with it providing you have sufficient money to pay the right people.
Corruption rarely produces any benefit to the people; it simply helps those in power become wealthier and more powerful. It is time, many believe that this is eradicated and their hopes are being pinned on how successful the Government will be in their investigations and more importantly imprisoning all those, regardless to wealth or social status.
Many people, including tourists, feel that Phuket has lost all of its charm and appeal. The roads now are so congested at all times of the day that it is almost impossible to get around. Once an affordable holiday destination for many, Phuket has now become extremely expensive with is often attributed to greed of the locals and businesses.
There is of course one downside to this play, which many foreigners fear that this latest action is leveled more at them; rather than the corrupt Thai officials – many are voicing their concerns that this could simply be a witch hunt on which to confiscate property from foreign owners.
Regardless of how the realtors spin property ownership in Thailand, for foreigners, it is in fact illegal for any foreigner to own land. To circumvent the law it is common practice to open a Thai Nominee Company, whereby 51% of the assets (the land) are held in the names of Thai Shareholders, with the remaining 49% is held with the foreigner. This is of course, under Thai law, illegal as ‘Nominees’ cannot be used but rather the Thai Shareholder must prove that they control and benefit from the 51% share ownership.
Almost all foreigners owning property in Phuket do so under a Thai Nominee Company and this investigation, if implemented as fully as the Thai Government have stated, that being ALL property ownership titles, then any foreigner holding land in a Thai Nominee Company faces the prospect of having their investment confiscated under Thai Law.
There is no question that the Thai Government needs to clean up its image and rules of law before entering the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2016 but whether it is able to take a more pragmatic and equitable approach to this situation remains another issue.
It is sometimes all too easy for a foreigner to fall in love with the lifestyle while on holiday but for anyone looking to buy land, in any foreign country, they should first and foremost think with their heads, not with their hearts, and perform due diligence on what is and what is not permissible for foreigners to own.