Land ownership on Samui being checked

Source: The Nation - 13 July 2006

Suratthani: Land ownership on Samui and Pha Ngan islands is to be scrutinised following complaints of encroachment onto forest reserve land and other illegal ownership. Suratthani Governor Wichit Wichaisan said yesterday he had assigned his deputy Thawatchai Therdphaothati to take charge of the issue and have officials thoroughly check all Samui land-ownership deals, especially sites near mountains and hillsides.

Caretaker Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat, meanwhile, said those involved in the alleged land encroachment on Samui had played golf with national politicians and that many local officials were too afraid to take action. Yongyuth said a foreign-owned company's ad to sell land in the Khao Dang area led to suspicions the land might have been obtained illegally. Local authorities, however, were unable to solve Samui land issues because whenever they probed ownership they faced obstruction by influential groups, he said.

Yongyuth said he and other senior officials would go tomorrow to Samui and sleep in tents on land whose ownership status was unclear to check first hand whether the ownership was legal. He said he ordered an investigation last August and even had the Forestry Department director-general transfer an official, but this did not seem to have much impact. He said he would ensure that if any of his ministerial officials were involved they would be fired."I'll solve this problem. And my actions aren't motivated by any political agenda," he said.

Surat Thani land officer Piatoon Lertkrai said the office had begun checking owners of land title deeds - especially foreigners - in May and would soon complete the process. If any land was found to have been obtained illegally, it would be seized.

The Nation's own checks on Samui land title deeds found that many Bangkok businessmen had recently obtained ownership and some land was held by foreigners for tourism-related businesses. As many as 325 business registrations - 292 by companies owned by foreign investors and 33 by Thai investors - were done for estate development, resorts and land trading on Samui and Pha Ngan. On Samui alone, there are 259 foreign-owned companies and 21 owned by Thai investors.

Meanwhile, Samui Island district chief Decha Kangsanan yesterday morning led nearly 500 people wearing yellow shirts with the symbol of the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King's accession to the throne on a protest walk against land encroachers.