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Chiang Mai Citylife > Articles > 2010 > 2010 Issue 09 > Interview with The Lord Mayor Tassanai Buranupakorn

Interview with The Lord Mayor Tassanai Buranupakorn

Citylife:
What have you achieved since you took office in December last year?

Tassanai:
My three main policies are to improve quality of life, to rejuvenate as well as preserve Lanna culture, as well as to fix old issues which require attention. The municipal area of 40 square kilometres has 150,000 registered residents, though at any given time I suspect we have more than 300,000 in the city. We are a centre for aviation, education, business, tourism and a multitude of important sectors in the north. The province itself generates around 50 billion baht of income each year and people come here to visit and live mainly for the environment and culture. There are many ongoing concerns and projects where taxpayers’ money has already been spent but projects left incomplete, so it is my mission to see the tax payers’ money used appropriately. For instance by the end of the year the Railway Park project will be complete, creating a new lung for our city where residents can safely go to relax and exercise, for many years there have been disagreements between the contractor and the municipality, l intend to make sure that we protect the people’s interest. In the same time frame we will also completely bury all electrical wires along Tha Pae and Chang Klan Roads as well as sort out the sewage issues in Mae Kha canal, by working with relevant bodies to request the channelling of water from other streams, such as Mae Sa, to help flush out and recycle the canal, which actually provides the city with mains water. The new municipal building will also be complete, with an underground car park for staff, so that visitors can have more convenient parking. The arts museum opposite the Three Kings Monument will also be finished.

Citylife:
What do you hope will be your crowing achievements during your term in office?

Tassanai:
Abstract issues such as reconciliation and such will be addressed, but it goes back to my previous three points. We Chiang Mai residents have been living off our cultural and environmental inheritance for so long, we have all benefited, but these treasures are now being abused, so we need to make sure we preserve and value them. Instead of drunken bars and such along the moat and river, I want to see people swimming there again. For instance when you think of certain Thai festivals you think of a certain province, I want Loy Krathong to be synonymous with Chiang Mai, we are going to bring it back to a semblance of what it used to be, a traditional event. Most people don’t even know what Lanna costumes really are, they are turning so sexy and being influenced by Thai traditional garb, we need to educate people as to the importance of the roots of our culture and build appreciation.

Citylife:
What are you doing to fix the everyday issues such as garbage, flooding, public transportation, pollution, etc.?

Tassanai:
These issues will, of course, be addressed too, as well as disease control and prevention. I have already reduced our garbage output from 320 tons per day to 300 and I am going to add more hazardous disposal points (batteries, fridges, computers), increasing them from 10 to over 100 throughout the city. We are also successfully encouraging clinics and hospitals to dispose of their dangerous waste in a more responsible manner.

We are encouraging people to stop burning and instead make compost to sell as fertiliser. We simply don’t have the budget to create a state of the art waste water management system, but we are trying to implement, and will ask hotels, restaurants and businesses to cooperate in, an organic system such as planting plants in waterways which will help suck up the poison, as well as use stone structures to stem seepage of waste into the mains.

Public transportation is another ongoing issue. There is no point spending millions on a bus system when we know that the songtaew will not cooperate, so my idea is to use buses to bring people into the city, on schedule, to designated terminals, while also working closely with the songtaew to then provide scheduled support to disperse people throughout the city. I would like to start this project by the end of the year.

As to floods, we have already dredged the Ping as well as other waterways throughout the city, and now have a very good warning system from Mae Tang, so that we know, an hour before hand, when an excess amount of water may hit the city. This gives us time to prepare sandbags as well as coordinate release channels within the city waterways. We have reduced the levels of the moat to be able to absorb more sudden rainfall, I have standby pumps on the ready for areas typically affected, and we are more alert than ever, able to respond quickly to flooding problems.

Citylife:
Has the fact that the central government is Democrat, as opposed to your Phua Thai banner, affected your budget?

Tassanai:
I can’t really answer as this is uncomfortable, but money collected from Chiang Mai residents in terms of business or income tax as well as VAT all go to the central government, but yet we don’t receive much back, last year we received 100 million less than the year before. Our major projects are not being supported and while money is still coming in for established projects, our job is simply to hand over the money to the existing projects. The government approves budgets every October, and since I didn’t come into office until December, we really haven’t had much money to spend. We hope to have a positive response to our requests for this year’s October budget approval.

Citylife:
Are there problems with corruption within the municipality, if so, how are you working to solve them?

Tassanai:
We are extremely transparent and thorough these days. We check and double check everything. Indeed we were so thorough that we lost our last budget request because we kept second guessing and double checking everything. Out of the 24 members of the municipal council, 15 are in opposition and 9 on the government side, this is why the budget is deeply scrutinised. They scrutinise themselves, and you, the media scrutinises us too.

Citylife:
Is there a comprehensive city plan? Are you doing anything to combat the spread of billboards, tall buildings and such?

Tassanai:
The city plan is like a gaping hole, it is not in our jurisdiction and until a city plan is approved, there is not much I can do. I can’t stop someone building a tall building if there is no law to stop them; otherwise my actions would be illegal. I am restricted by lack of authorisation, if the rules and the law are in place I would be happy to enforce them.

Citylife:
You have not been as public a mayor as others in the past, is this deliberate or your personality?

Tassanai:
I don’t really go out to social events; however, I go to all policy-related meetings and events. My first year must all be about work, so no, I don’t socialise too much.

Citylife:
Does your shirt colour, which is red, affect your job?

Tassanai:
No, not for me. You have to go and look at the root of the problem. The inequality. Mr. A does something and goes to jail while Mr. B does the same thing and does not. I use this lesson as the basis of my work. I believe in being equal with everyone. No one here in Chiang Mai wants violence, I believe that those who cause violence are not from here, because we are all affected by it. I tell people that they must always accept the rule of law, wait for election and use your voice and power then. There is no point creating issues until then. We all need to follow the rule.

I am not denying that I am red shirt, but I love democracy with His Majesty the King at its helm and I firmly believe in the rule of law. The 2007 constitution is not a democratic constitution. Just look at the method of electing the senate, it is no longer based on population, but on provinces and appointments. They are selected, not elected, and by the coup makers at that. The coup makers and Election Commission used their power to wield it in ways which is not democratic. So, I don’t believe this affects my work, I believe in democracy as much as anyone else and will do my job and take the lead from the voice of the people.

If you say you love democracy, surely the most dangerous thing for democracy is a coup. It is the killing of democracy. As long as I say that I believe in democracy I will always say that I am anti coup. I believe in that.

Citylife:
In your opinion, is Chiang Mai now safe from political turmoil and violence?

Tassanai:
I am not worried, I am convinced that Chiang Mai people only want peace.

Citylife:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of coming from a family of politicians? (Tassanai’s two uncles were previous mayors of Chiang Mai, and one is currently the head of the Provincial Administration Organisation while other members have sat in parliament and the senate).

Tassanai:
The good is that I have learnt so much before assuming office and was also taught what to expect in terms of challenges and problems, this has helped me to face them in the right way. The drawback is that many people may accuse me of using my family connections to get into office, when in fact I was elected fair and square by the people. It was a real election, it was democracy.

Citylife:
What are your career aspirations?

Tassanai:
I just want to do my best to achieve all the goals I have already told you about. Right now, I am focusing on Chiang Mai, and not looking much further than that. I know we can make things better, you are half English, you must know how polluted London used to be in the past, and today it is clean city. We can do the same thing here. We can just sit here and say, we have money, we have visitors, we are content, but that is not sustainable, we need to go back to the roots and appreciate what we have while developing a future which includes growth, but responsible growth true to our roots.

Citylife:
What do you dream for Chiang Mai?

Tassanai:
If you have a child then I want you to be able to say that you would love your child to grow up here, that is a sign of a healthy city.

Citylife:
What would you say to Chiang Mai’s tens of thousands of expatriates?

Tassanai:
Chiang Mai people welcome you all from the heart, we wish you to love our city like we do. Sometimes people may do things differently in another country from their own; they may break rules such as throwing away garbage everywhere, drink and drive and such which they would never do at home, I just hope that they can treat this with the same love as they would their home. To contact the municipality they are welcome to go to www.cmcity.go.th.