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OPINION: Do foreigners really own 90% of Phuket’s beach front?

August 25, 2009

PHUKET: The front page story in today’s Bangkok Post which quotes a leading research body as saying foreigners own 90% of Phuket’s beach front land has certainly struck a sour note against foreign ownership of land in Thailand.

The study, which was put together by the Thailand Research Fund, quotes a professor from Sukhothai Thammathirat University who says these holdings are lodged with Thai nominees.

Much of the current controversy stems from the recent reports of foreign parties looking to enter the rice and farming business in the country, with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva telling the media that the Foreign Business Act explicitly forbids this, and that any violations would result in revoked land titles.

It’s disappointing to see such a one-sided story hit page one of the Bangkok Post as it’s clearly sensationalist. It appears that no facts or supporting documents have been presented; that there have been no hands-on investigations by Post journalists; and that no effort was made to obtain comments from foreigners with an interest in the Thai property industry. The story takes us back about two years, to the days when the Foreign Business Act plunged the nation’s property business into a serious flattening of demand.

Examining the claims made in the report, it has to be noted that there is, in fact, little beach front land available in Phuket as a large portion of the island’s coasts are rimmed by roads, such as in Patong and Karon. At Bangtao, Laguna Phuket has legal title to its large-scale land holdings through the Thai Government’s Board of Investment scheme. In Mai Khao, Anantara and Marriott are owned by the Thai-listed Minor Group.

Locally-owned hotels such as the Kata Thani, Thavorn, Sri Panwa and Sala occupy considerable areas. Even more noteworthy is the expansive Sirinath National Park which covers much of the west coast, pre-empting land ownership by anyone – Thais and foreigners alike.

The type of tabloid sensationalism in today’s Post will only further hamper efforts to encourage foreign investment during the current recession and property downturn. If there is substance in the theme of the report, the Post should publish evidence to support the 90% foreign ownership claim and give a bit of background on the foreigners and their nominees. Surely, that would be far better than inflaming an issue which only damages the country’s reputation amongst the investment community.

Source: http://www.phuketgazette.net/news/index.asp?id=7706&display=1

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