A whopping 15 billion baht is sought to change the seaside resort's image.
But first there's a little matter of clearing up crime and foreign gangsters
Published: 26/02/2012 at 04:00 AM Newspaper section: News
Pattaya _ the painted old lady by the sea_ is about to undergo a 15 billion baht face-lift. City executives ambitiously want to turn the city into ''New Pattaya, the World Class Greenovative Tourism City'' with a ''green and clean'' environment for tourists and locals.
But for the Cinderella transformation to take place, the city needs to be classified as a Designated Area for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta), an initiative introduced by the former Thaksin administration, which gives it semi-autonomy.
The city's administrators have been pushing for the move to reclassify Pattaya and its surrounds since 2008. Dasta approved the application in 2009, allowing Pattaya City to swallow eight municipalities and tambon administrations. The Pattaya masterplan was approved by cabinet last year.
But Dasta itself, which provides the funding, has not been without its critics who say granting so much financial independence without strict oversight is opening the door to financial abuse and mismanagement.
Pattaya City's mayor, Itthiphol Khunploem, is certain the injection of state funding and expansion of city hall's influence over surrounding areas can only benefit the area.
''To develop Pattaya, we need its surrounding areas, but these are often under different local authorities, not just ours,'' Mr Itthiphol said. ''So, being designated as a cluster area, we will be able to integrate scattered authorities in order to achieve the shared goal.''
Mr Itthiphol wants to see Pattaya's image as a safe beach resort city restored, but with a green message.
The 15 billion baht ''Greenovative Tourism'' city plan, earmarks 132 projects, including developing transportation and tourist attractions. It aims to declare Pattaya a green and clean city in 10 years.
But cleaning up the streets of Pattaya involves more than just new buses and painting beach benches. Local law enforcement officials say the issues of local vice and foreign criminals living in Pattaya need to be addressed.
Pol Capt Prajakpong Suriya of the TNCC said it was difficult to locate foreign suspects _ even if police had mugshots _ as they frequently changed addresses and it was difficult to obtain information about them.
''Pattaya is a popular criminal base because it's a hub for tourists and expatriates,'' he said.
According to Chon Buri Immigration Office records, at least 14 major criminal acts involving foreigners were committed in 2010 and 12 last year. Earlier this month, it was revealed three Iranian suspects in the the Valentine's Day bombings had partied with bar girls in Pattaya before heading to Bangkok.
A senior immigration official said the plan to turn Pattaya into a green city would be impossible unless the foreign criminals were flushed out.
He said a big problem was hotels and guesthouses not reporting foreign guest stays to immigration within 24 hours, as required by regulations. Compounding the problem are non-registered guesthouses in the notorious Walking Street, many of which double as restaurants.
The Immigration Department has only received one million baht to upgrade its facilities and volunteer patrols.
''Is it possible to be green and clean if our house is still messy?'' said the official.
Pattaya police chief, Pol Col Nantawut Suwanla-ong, said overall the crime rate had declined in the past two years due to better monitoring by police and volunteers.
He said the city had been divided into grids of one square kilometre patrolled by designated units. The biggest impact was curtailing drug gangs.
Pol Col Nantawut said the number of murders had been reduced by 40% from 45 in 2010 to 29 in 2011.
The number of street robberies had fallen by about 200 over the same period, he said, without giving further statistics.
However, Pol Col Nantawut said the crime rate was still high and more work needed to be done.
''We are working hard to make Pattaya green and clean, but it won't be successful if we can't suppress crime,'' Pol Col Nantawut said.
He said the ''Greenovative'' plan also needed to take into account reducing vice if Pattaya was to meet its tourism goals. One way to achieve this was to have a stronger police presence on the streets.
Mr Itthiphol said the city did not have any plans to address the problem of foreign criminals and added the current annual budget was adequate.
He said the question of law enforcement rested with several agencies and not just the city administration.
Pol Lt Gen Panya Mamen _ chief of Provincial Police Region 2, which has recently established the Transnational Crime Coordination Centre (TNCC) in Pattaya _ said many foreign criminals call Pattaya home.
He said many of them pass themselves off as tourists. Some work with Thai criminal partners or operate on their own or in gangs, with crimes ranging from theft to murder.
"You really want to save the planet?...the next time you see a hybrid car with a childseat... smash the window, remove the childseat and replace it with a box of condoms..." Doug Stanhope
Look for a further spike in Pattaya suicides again this year...this being a leap year and all...