Friday, May 17, 2013

Thailand: The Concept of Fast-Tracked "Tourist Courts" Will Never Become Reality

According to The Phuket Gazette, local officials in the area, faced with a crime crisis, due largely because of the saturation of tourists, have comer up with the idea of establishing “tourist courts,” in order to promptly try local criminals while the victims are still in Phuket.

Conceptually, the notion has merit, particularly considering that much of Thailand’s hard-currency revenue comes from foreign tourism. Prosecutors have even entertained the idea of adopting the “tourist courts” in largely cities if the courts are successful.

As in many countries that depend on foreign tourism, victims of larceny, fraud, armed robbery, assault and rape face the prospect of having to extend their stay, often funded by themselves. In cases where the victims leave the country, many defendants are eventually released in the absence of a complainant.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, like many solutions hatched by Thai officials where tourists are concerned, concepts are easy to develop, but the execution of such a concept is fraught with complications, particularly given Thailand’s intricate and often bureaucratic system of jurisprudence.

First of all, keep in mind that the concept of fast-paced “tourist courts” was a “brain-child” of the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

Now, throw into the mix the Justice Ministry and the Royal Thai Police, neither of which have any economic incentives to work harder and faster. Thus, overcoming bureaucratic infighting between ministries is a major obstacle.

An example of the Thai government’s priorities have already been raised by Phuket Provincial Police Commander Choti Chavalviwat, who would prefer to see more police officers or reliance on technology designed to prevent crime before it occurs.

Chavalviwat is already on record for calling for the recruitment of 5,000 more police officers to help protect tourists in Phuket earlier this year after the government released new crime figures for the island echoing the island’s crime crisis.

Another factor to consider is that Thailand has the highest gun ownership rate in all of Asia, with 15.6 guns per 100 people. That figure puts it well ahead of Pakistan, the next closest nation in the region with 11.6 guns per 100 residents. Thailand’s Justice Ministry believes the number of young people carrying guns has increased 32% over the past nine years.

Another Thai proposal that never materialized was the creation of “gun-free” zones in tourist areas, yet given the volume of guns being carried by Thais, both legally and illegally, and the high cost of installing metal detectors and/or x-ray units throughout the country, this plan, too, never got off the drawing board.

Separate and distinct from Thailand’s crime crisis is the country’s failure to regulate safe roadways, particularly in tourist centers. Another large problem is the unchecked practice of renting two-wheeled motorized vehicles, both motorcycles and motorbikes, to tourists who have never operated or been licensed to operate such vehicles.

Add to that equation the excessive drinking by tourists and their unfamiliarity with driving on the “left,” not to mention zero traffic enforcement, and you have an explanation for the large number of foreign tourists being seriously injured and/orkilled on Phuket roadways annually. 

The fact is that no matter how you “sugar-coat” it, Thailand is a very violent society with an extraordinary high rate of victimization for tourists, largely because they are good targets and are perceived locally as “wealthy.”

As most of our regular readers know from my daily postings going back to 2009, crime in Thailand dominates the sum total of my roughly 2,000 postings from the blog’s inception.

All and all, it is very, very unlikely that the “tourist courts” will ever come to fruition, simply because of the competing priorities within the Thai government itself.

Although Thailand prides itself in being referred to as the "Land of Smiles," it is sadly developing a reputation as one of Asia's crime centers, which eventually will cause victimized tourists to seek safer destinations.