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From Village Girl to Industrial Estate Champion

By Samreth Sopha, Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia

Sixteen years ago, Suwanna Dokmaiklee was a young teacher in the rural village of Maptaphut in eastern Thailand. That was when the government decided that the quiet and remote area she had grown up in was to be transformed into a throbbing industrial estate fed by the discovery of natural gas in the Gulf of Thailand.
 
A daunting prospect, perhaps, but for Suwanna whose job is now to promote the Maptaphut Industrial Estate as a public relations officer one that has turned out well.

"Sixteen years ago, this was the only deserted and available area. Now it has become an important industrial zone for my country," she said.
 
Suwanna said she and her family are satisfied to live and work in the area because it was their native village.
 
Maptaphut, located approximately 220 km east of Bangkok, in the south eastern part of Thailand, was established by the Thai government to take advantage of the natural gas discoveries in the Gulf of Thailand and to help develop poorer areas away from the capital.
 
Maptaphut Industrial Estate was formed by the government in 1990 and its duty is to provide utilities and facilities including infrastructure, water supply, telecommunications to foreign investors. Another main duty, Maptaphut Industrial Estate is to lease land to foreign investments with the condition that land offered on long term lease basis, the initial 30 years period will be renewed for 20 years, and the land price is structured according to categories of industrial land available.
 Of its 26 industrial estates of all 76 provinces of Thailand, Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) in collaboration with the Board of Investment (BOI) have divided them into three zones with different levels of incentive. The poorer the area, the greater the incentive.
 
Zone 1 is 100% exemption from corporate tax for three years, zone 2 is 100% exemption for seven years, and zone 3 is 100% exemption for eight years plus reduction of 50% for another five years.
 
Due to this attraction as well as large gas-related and heavy industrial complex, 2,400 acres of land in IEAT master plan have already been leased, where 50 factories, including petrochemical, fertilizer, steel, and oil refinery factories have been operated by multi-national investors. The investments have been absorbing 12,614 workers from the area.
 
Maptaphut is a stunning sight. Massive and sprawling factories, equipped by foreign investors themselves, squat on either side of the highly developed infrastructure of road, rail and ports. Yellow flames lick the sky from the vantage point of tall chimney stacks in almost every site, and dark fumes drift according to the wish of the wind.
 
Suwanna, her smiling pleasant face greeting questions from reporters in her large, clean office, recounted the story of Maptaphut. It was chosen 16 years ago, and in the next 10 years the petrochemical factory will start to use land, and thereafter the other factories will be set up until the area is full.
 
"At the beginning, we paid cash compensation to the farmers and fishermen who had been living in the area," she said.
 
Maptaphut is part of the economic boom in Thailand in which its GDP growth ranked from 8 to 9% within the past ten years. The miracle of this development came to an abrupt end in July 1997 when the currency collapsed and the economy contracted by between 7 and 8 per cent.

 Suwanna, 36, married with no child, started to work with IEAT six years ago. She said that the workers as well as the population had not known that the country was heading for a crisis.
 
"We did not know at all who had made this problem, but after that we all tried hard to support our living condition, and fortunately nobody was laid off,"  she smilingly said.
 
Apart from the economic boom in Maptaphut, there were concerns on the environmental impact to the population in the area by the waste left behind by the factories. In order to protect the population, a waste treatment center, Genco, was built two years ago under the supervision of the government.
 
Concerning the pollution in Maptaphut, the Ministry of Science and  Technology, and the Ministry of Industry in collaboration with BOI have been investigating any cases and have found ways of improving them, according to Pairot Sompouti, investment counselor of BOI.

"Whenever there was problem involved with the pollution from a factory, we would order it to improve their equipment, and strengthen their environmental protection measures," he commented.
 
Konthi Kulachol, a senior official of Unocal, a huge oil company which has been exploring gas and oil at the sea water of Maptaphut, indicated that his company had transported the waste to the offshore prior the Genco center was established. " We had thrown the waste to the offshore, and we paid for treatment,"  he said without elaborating on the amount his company paid.
 
Also, the National Petrochemical Company Limited (NPC), has the same structure and policy so that it prevents the environmental impact caused by its factories. "We have environment managing system, and we had paid 30 million baht to Genco,"  said Jamaree Chaiwattana, Public Relations Officer of NPC.
 
Nevertheless, the environmentalists have said the waste treatment center should have been built when the industrial estate was first set up. The absence of such a facility has meant that pollution has severely affected the nearby population.
 
Although there has been a slowdown of business resulting from the crisis in Thailand and in Asian region as well, economic analysts said that Thailand would recover from this crisis and it would continue to develop.
 
Compared with its neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, Thailand is the best country in the Indochinese peninsula in economy, business, and industry alike.
 
Cambodia, in particular, is undeveloped country, but it has a lot of natural resources including potential oil and gas in territorial waters, and other industrial items in which they have not yet been explored, it needs a long way to develop.

Copyright 2009 IMMF.