|  January 28, 2013

As most of you know, the current partying-in-power, Pheu Thai, slid into parliament on a smooth mud-slide. 

Arguably the party was elected for its platform of populist promises, one of which was that first time car buyers in Thailand in 2012 would automatically receive up to 100,000 baht in cash back from the government. Call it a tax rebate, a present from the rest of the taxpaying public (though the spin doctorers would like you to think it’s from the government) or a bribe. The fact is, by last year’s end over 1.25 million people had signed up for this largess. That is 1.25 million more cars on the road (from this scheme alone) this year and a projected tax rebate of around 90 billion-yes, billion-over the next three years. 

Closer to home, 39,390 cars have been purchased in Chiang Mai under this scheme, resulting in an expected tax reprobate [sic I know] of just over 3 billion baht.

In 2007 I interviewed the then-current mayor, who told me that had he the budget, he would implement a rapid transit system which would once and for all solve Chiang Mai’s traffic and public transportation problems. Covering the 430 square kilometre municipal area, and half a million plus residents, a fifty kilometre route would include the use of buses as well as an upgraded songtaew system. The project was expected to cost 1.4 billion baht. So, even factoring in inflation, it seems as though we could have ourselves a pretty amazing mass transit system and perhaps a bit left over to do other lovely things like clean up the environment and perhaps even encourage people to drive sensibly, as well as having 39,390 (and perhaps more as one would expect that a good system would discourage private car usage) fewer cars-and atrocious drivers!-on the road. But hey, why let common sense get in the way of a grand gesture? Especially when an election, and ensuing collections, is in the balance. 

All these new cars will of course gobble up more petrol and gas, creating more pollution and congestion while increasing public spending on the construction and expansion of more roads, not to mention health care costs for pollution-related illnesses (and car accidents). 

As a private car driver, it may sound hypocritical for me to get all wound up about this, after all why should I be able to drive a car and not the other 39-odd thousand living here? The point is that I shouldn’t; none of us should. Private cars should be far and few and only for those who really need them, or can pay tons of taxes, benefiting society, for the privilege-not inexplicably receiving a tax refund as a reward! With a good rapid transit system, rather than this upcoming rabid traffic cataclysm, Chiang Mai could see far fewer private vehicles on the road, with most of us using public transportation more and more regularly. Cars are not a universal entitlement to be had, but a pest which must be reduced.

Seven out of ten people in Thailand support this government scheme; but then 64% of adult Thais think that corruption is acceptable. Frankly, it is the government’s job to look after the national interest and not pander to popular public (mis)beliefs. Sometimes, whether we like it or not, the government has got to steer us in a responsible direction. 

Yes I know it is a fait accompli, my gripe is going to achieve absolutely nada, but maybe we can use this lesson to think things over a bit more next time, to ponder over the greater good and the future of our city, country even, before getting too excited about a political party’s campaign promises.  

But then again I hear that buffalos are evolving into flight. 

Citylife this month:

A hodgepodge of articles ranging from my interview with a surprisingly candid superintendent of Chiang Mai Immigration, Hilary Cadigan’s hazy retrospective on the drug-induced Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, Casey Hynes’s look at the anticipated effects of China’s recent change of the guard and our new intern Mai Nguyen from Canada saying pish-posh to love and romance, showing all of us single people how to survive Valentine’s Day without a tub of Swensen’s and the tenth rerun of The Notebook. Thank you Green Table restaurant for providing the venue, cute waiter, great food and wine for the photo below.