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Chiang Mai Citylife > Articles > 2012 > 2012 Issue 01 > Citylife’s Annual chat with the Lord Mayor

Citylife’s Annual chat with the Lord Mayor

Tassanai Buranupakorn the Lord Mayor of Chiang Mai is known for his youthful good looks and a landslide victory into power, though governing the city has never been an easy ride. Mayor Tassanai admits the central government dominates laws and policies in Chiang Mai, and usually get the final say. He believes in self-reliance and setting achievable goals to be completed using discipline. In this interview we talk with the Mayor about the recent floods, songtaew mafia, city planning, and how being a mayor means you can’t always do the things you want.

Citylife:
What was the extent of damage caused by the floods in Chiang Mai?

Mayor Tassanai:
There was one death during the floods this is my biggest regret; though we warned people to be aware of electric cables during the floods. The loss of goods and livelihoods of our citizens is also regrettable. Another problem I am worried about is the decline in tourism and business opportunities for Chiang Mai. Even though it took only 1 week to clear the damage caused by the floods, many tourists cancelled their trips here because they didn’t have the right information.

Citylife:
What have we learnt from this year’s severe floods?

Mayor Tassanai:
Firstly the rains came very late this year, secondly the forest land of ours has dwindled. Thirdly the infrastructure of our country is weak in dealing with the irrigation of excess water. If you think about it, the dams are built to facilitate electricity and agriculture, not really for flood prevention purposes. Apart from that there are issues with private and government sector buildings which damage natural water ways.

Citylife:
How can you reassure readers that next year the municipality will be prepared in case of flooding?

Mayor Tassanai:
This year we only had 6 months to prepare ourselves, and larger projects need much more time. If we are going to build a big wall or a drainage system, it will take a lot longer, maybe next year. For now we will begin by communicating with the people. We want citizens to understand, because there are people who build things to block the water, which actually cause damage for other people. Some people ask us why we don’t just go in using rules and laws to change this. The sad fact is that those sued for obstruction of waterways which exacerbated the 2005 floods, are still going through the legal system, so obviously the system is very slow and not effective.

We have to look at and repair our current waterways. We also need to develop prevention, whether we use earth, concrete or sandbags. Many times the private sector wouldn’t let us into their private properties, so this is a problem. When the water comes, instead of being able to help and prevent damage, we were unable to do so because they didn’t allow us in beforehand. When we put sandbags down they are often stolen, some people dismantle them because they don’t look good! It is important to have them intact as these sandbags go along 11 kms of the river, so that is 22 kms in total.

Citylife:
What will you do to prevent flooding next year?

Mayor Tassanai:
We need phu yai [referring to higher authorities] to help us. What the municipality needs to ask for is a large pump station on the east of the Ping. In this area they don’t have a water pumping station so we have to take a machine to help them, this takes four days. We want water prevention measures which look good, and can be elevated and work easily. It needs to be easy to remove and use. Chiang Mai is a tourist city, and we don’t want anything ugly.

Citylife:
Are there any plans for a public bus or train system in Chiang Mai?

Mayor Tassanai:
Chiang Mai has many problems regarding public transport. If you have no friends or relatives to help you out, especially at night, travelling is hard. In the old days we had bus routes but they didn’t quite satisfy the demands of the people since they only ran on the outer ring road routes. The association of songtaew as well as ajarn who are experts in this matter have advised us on routes and to set timetables so that the public can plan their routes and schedules easier. We need to change the behaviour of the drivers so that they stop at all stops even though there is no one there. Thailand is a hot country and people won’t stand in the sun if the bus stop doesn’t have a roof, if people are waiting in a nearby building, the drivers need to stop for enough time for people to come out from the shade.

Citylife:
I’ve heard rumours about the ‘songtaew mafia’ preventing Chiang Mai having public transport systems, please could you tell me more about this?

Mayor Tassanai:
The word songtaew mafia is too strong. Let’s call it a group of people who protect their interests. It is a living for them, and they want to protect their livelihoods. We don’t want to see them as our enemy, but as our friend. We are trying to set routes in areas which won’t cause too much financial damage to the trade of the songtaew and we will work together so that a bus may drop people off at key points, then the songtaew can take over form there and take them to smaller destinations.

Citylife:
Are there going to be any more green spaces created in the city?

Mayor Tassanai:
Creating green spaces in Chiang Mai is one of my main objectives. I opened the new public garden called Suan Rot Fai, opposite the train station. I don’t want to say for sure, till I have confirmed and finalised that it will go ahead, but it looks very likely.

Citylife:
Many people are concerned about city planning. Please can you tell me what the council is doing to manage it?

Mayor Tassasnai:
I accept that city planning is a problem, but it’s a difficult and complicated matter. It is very clear there are many condominiums and tall buildings built on small soi. But unfortunately it is not illegal, I cannot stop it. The law which is issued by the central government is more powerful than what the local council can issue. I have the right to make suggestions to, and raise issues with, the central government which concern Chiang Mai, but I have no rights to make a decision. As long as developers gain a legal license to build there is little the council can do.

Citylife:
Why did you get involved in politics?

Mayor Tassanai:
I felt I had something to offer. Some say that if you are a politician then you are already seen as bad. But if people think this then maybe we just get bad people becoming politicians. I have to admit when I look at some politicians I see them as bad. But the system needs to be allowed to work through these issues. Look at America’s era where Al Capone was caught on tax evasion that was the system working, irrespective of officials bribed. For me, I am always anti-coup, because this is wiping out the system.

Citylife:
How has your life changed since becoming mayor?

Mayor Tassanai:
When I walk outside in the morning I have to be careful, because I am not just myself. If you look at me, people see me as a position, not a man. They don’t say Tassanai has done something, they say the mayor has. I have to tell myself to be patient, because I am the mayor I cannot just do what I like all the time.

Citylife:
What has made you successful in life?

Mayor Tassanai:
I measure my success from what the people tell me. If people say yes you have helped, then that is how my success is proved. If they say no, I have not helped them, I have failed.

Citylife:
What advice do you give to people to achieve their dreams?

Mayor Tassanai:
I believe it is important to set your own goals. In one year you cannot do everything right, but you have to try to limit the wrong things. You must have discipline in order to achieve you goals. It is crucial to be self-reliant, you need to look to yourself to develop, and not always rely or blame things on others.

Citylife:
Do you think Prime Minister Yingluck can help the people of Chiang Mai?

Mayor Tassanai:
Yes, I think she can, but she needs time. She was not long in office before the country encountered a natural disaster, people blame her, but it is unfair to put all the blame on one person. She needs time to develop.