Pattaya City Hall Thailand Chonburi

The Pattaya City Council apparently collapsed after half its remaining members wanted to spend 200 million baht earmarked for new CCTV cameras on Covid-19 relief instead.

Speaking to reporters Aug. 13, Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome said he can’t say for sure why half of the eight-member panel resigned April 10 – none of those who quit gave a reason – but he assumed it was over the rental and service contract for 940 cameras.

Council Chairman Anan Angkanawisai announced the dissolution of the panel Wednesday following the resignations of Wasan Naowniew, Chakorn Kanjawattana, Saksit Yaemsri and Choluek Chotekamjorn who comprised half of the eight remaining members of the council, which originally had 12 members appointed by the previous junta in 2016.

With fewer than the six required members, the council was automatically dissolved. Sonthaya said Friday he would formally notify the Interior Ministry and ask that Chonburi’s governor lead a panel to select new interim members until elections can be held.

The city council was appointed June 30, 2016 by an Interior Ministry committee chaired by then- Chonburi Gov. Khomsan Ekachai to replace the elected 24-member panel, which was disbanded when their members’ terms expired two weeks before.

Cameras vs. Covid Relief

In his news conference, Sonthaya implied that the camera controversy was fueled by the unusual actions of Anan, who pushed vigorously for the 200-million-baht budget to an undisclosed company be approved.

Sonthaya said Wasan, Chakorn, Saksit and Choluek – all of whom previously held high administrative officers or worked in the legal system – objected to spending such a large amount when thousands of people were queuing daily in Pat

They also pointed out that Pattaya’s direct pandemic-relief to the city’s struggling residents was a measly 2,000 baht a family. Why should one company get such a fat contract during such dire times, they asked.

Saksit was a former Baan Suan Subdistrict mayor. Choluek was the ex-chairman of the Lawyers Council of Pattaya. Wasan was a previous director of the Chonburi Primary Education Department and Chakorn was a former Banglamung District chief.

But Anan pressed on, putting the matter to a secret-ballot vote. The four men objected again, saying the council bylaws only allow secret ballots on matters pertaining to the monarchy.

Sonthaya also said Anan asked him to vote to prevent a tie. While council bylaws allow the mayor to vote, Sonthaya said he was uncomfortable doing so, see it as unethical. So he declined.

Anan over-rode the objections, but the vote failed 4-4. Then the chairman set aside the vote the put it on the agenda again for Aug. 13.

Anan Unusually Motivated

No one knows why Anan was so motivated to approve the budget. The name of the CCTV company that would benefit nor the chairman’s connection to the firm – if any – were revealed. But Anan took pains after the council was dissolved to assert that he had never profited personally from any work he did on the city council.

The 200-million-baht contract was only for rental of the camera equipment and only for a year. Other unspecified service and operational costs were included.

That price compares very unfavorably with an 2020 proposal by the Royal Thai Police to install 9,000 cameras in the Pattaya area, as city hall had proved to incompetent over the past decade in building and maintaining a CCTV network.

The price tag for the police plan? A mere 30 million baht.

Sonthaya said no one has told him why the council members resigned, but admitted the CCTV debate was “very serious”.

He likewise refused to take a position on whether the budget should have been approved. Sonthaya said that, despite, the pandemic, investment in city infrastructure needs to continue, especially as only 56 percent of the the city’s 2,026 CCTV cameras are broken.

He said the council needs to approve budgets, even if the money isn’t spent. Money can always be diverted to Covid-19 relief or other priorities from approved budgets, but – once the pandemic ends – CCTV and other projects could not begin if there was no existing budget in place. The time wasted would impair the central government’s strategic plans for the Eastern Economic Corridor region, which includes Pattaya.

This story also appeared in the Pattaya Mail, a Bangkok Herald partner.