Bangkok Post 1 May 2007
By Apinya Wipatayotin
Environmental activists have called on the minister of Natural Resources and Environment to step down and take responsibility for the lack of progress in the investigation of the corruption-plagued Klong Dan wastewater treatment project in Samut Prakan.
"We want him (the minister) to resign from his post as soon as possible because he has done nothing to bring new developments in the case. We gave him a chance to move forward with the case, but his time has now run out," said Dawan Chantarahassadee, a protest leader.
A group representing the Klong Dan community yesterday submitted a letter to Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanond, demanding that Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Kasem Snidvongs be removed for his failure to unravel the Klong Dan corruption case.
The villagers were forced to make such a move after the ministry last week asked the Criminal Court to postpone a court hearing in the case, citing a delay in the appointment of a new lawyer.
Penchom sae Tang, an activist with the Campaign for the Alternative Industry Network, said minister Kasem has never taken the case seriously. Moreover, he didn't oppose a plan to bring in a new lawyer, even though it was bound to impact the case. "The minister can't deny his responsibility. He was involved with the case from the beginning. He may be trying to protect his colleagues," she said.
Mr Kasem, as a permanent secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment when the corruption allegations first surfaced, submitted the controversial project for consideration to the national environment committee. Later, he resubmitted the project, which underwent drastic changes and the project's construction costs were upped without any proper reasons.
The 23-billion-baht wastewater treatment project was later found to be riddled with corruption, especially the price paid for the land purchase where the plant was sited. The project was implemented by the science ministry in 1995 under the Chuan Leekpai government.
The Department of Pollution Control has filed a lawsuit against 19 individuals charging them with selling illegal land to the project developers. The land in question belongs to the department.
Meanwhile, the Department of Pollution Control's legal division chief Pramual Chaleaw admitted yesterday that it was too late to name a new lawyer by May 3, the day of the court hearing, and it would not be postponed.