Partner Spotlight: Thailand Environment Institute
As part of the preparation for our 2012 Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environmental (STRIPE) US Study Tour, TAI is featuring our visiting partners from Indonesia and Thailand. This piece is in conversation with Dr. Somrudee Nicro of the Thailand Environment Institute. Please join us online on Thursday, Oct. 25th from 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm EST for our web cast seminar reflecting on the experience of the study tour and looking forward to the future ATI movement.
1) Tell us about yourself and the work of TEI.
I am the senior director of TEI (Thailand Environment Insitute). TEI is a non-profit, knowledge based organization working on the environment. TEI started in 1993 and works from the grassroots level to the policy level, both nationally and internationally. We use a multistakeholder approach, working with policy makers, the business sector, academics, NGOs, and the grassroots. We work in several areas including natural resources and the environment, sustainable cities, environmental education, green labelling, climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable consumption and production and environmental governance, etc. We have been a partner and core team member of TAI since the very beginning – for over 10 years now.
2) What is the Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment (STRIPE) project?
The STRIPE project is about access to information, which is important for us because we see it as part of TAI (The Access Initiative, www.accessinitiative.org). We have been working on TAI for a long time and have made accomplishments around promoting access to information. Together with 31 other organizations, TEI has implemented Article 9(8) of the Official Information Act (1997), resulting in an announcement by the Official Information Commissioners that information related to the environment and health has to be made readily available to the public without request. However, in practice, most of this information is still unavailable without request. We hope that the STRIPE project will, one way or another, help expedite the enforcement of this law and turn it into actual practice.
3) Why is the STRIPE project important to the work that you do?
At present, if ordinary people, especially potentially impacted community members, want information about a project that will impact them, it could be very difficult to get. The lack of communication and access means people don’t know what is going to happen to their lives; this naturally raises their concerns particularly when there have been a number of cases which have had serious adverse impacts. And, in several areas, it has gotten to the point where local villagers don’t even trust the information given to them by governmental agencies. With the lack of other effective channels to make their voice heard, if they do want something they protest in number to express their concern. This protest could be in a form of road blocking, among others. Showing up in number has been deemed by several communities as the only effective mode in calling attention of the authority. For sure, this is not the best mode, and it’s very costly and dangerous to all involved parties in different ways. We hope that the STRIPE project will help people effectively get the information they need in a safe manner.
4) What are you hoping to gain from the US study tour?
The Study Tour could be very helpful because we plan to bring a variety of participants, from a prominent community leader who has been highly involved in this issue to the Secretary General of Office of Natural Resources and Environment Policy and Planning and a Deputy Governor of Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand. The program has been very well designed and should be able to address many crucial issues we are facing in Thailand.
I am particularly interested in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance – we don’t have such an office in Thailand. We have good laws and ambitious standards about the environment, but we have a problem with a lack of enforcement. The Office of Natural Resource and Environment Policy and Planning (ONEP) facilitates the approval process of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), but ONEP doesn’t have the mandate to monitor the companies’ compliance or the companies’ implementation of their pollution mitigation plans, which are attached to their EIA reports. In addition, the STRIPE project focuses on the link between environmental data and health data. In Thailand the environment and public health are mandates of different ministries. Cross-ministerial cooperation is always a challenge in Thailand. So we’ll see how the US overcomes these issues.
I just returned from a trip to Western Australia, where we visited a rural area. For example, one of the townships we visited has only 700 people. However, there is a governmental office in each township called the Western Australian Community Resource Centre. The community resource centers contain computers, internet, Skype, phone, fax, etc. for people’s free use to communicate with the government. In Thailand, it is at the people’s cost to communicate to officials. Moreover, when we send a letter to the government we don’t know if they’ll respond in time or if they’ll respond at all. The provision of the community resource centers in itself reveals that the government wants to hear from the people. I don’t know how communication between the government and citizens functions in the US. We are interested to see how the US government proactively facilitates communication between the people and the government.