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Ministers, governors ‘doing their best’, Prawit says

Deputy PM eases up on Prayut’s threat to turf out officials failing to curb PM2.5

Speaking somewhat at odds with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prawit Wongsuwan, one of his deputies, said on Tuesday (February 4) that Cabinet ministers and provincial governors were gung-ho about serving the public in tackling PM2.5 air pollution and cared little about losing their positions should their efforts fail.

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The remark to reporters at Government House came the day after Prayut threatened to move aside officials who failed at the task.

Prawit said such action should be left for later when it could be demonstrated they’d failed, but in the meantime the level of hazardous PM2.5 particle dust was currently worse in many places because low atmospheric pressure prevented it from dispersing.

At the same time, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said governors of the provinces where the haze comes mainly from farmers burning off crop scrub had to be tougher in enforcing the law in coordination with district chiefs.

He said village headmen and kamnan should be trying to arrange a schedule with farmers so they’re not all burning at the same time. If different areas take turns, the wind would be enough to safely disperse the smoke, he said.

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And the governor of Bangkok must consider more intensive measures to take whenever PM2.5 levels become unsafe, Varawut added.

His ministry has all the information the governors need to combat the problem, he said. There’s nothing they can do about haze drifting in from neighbouring countries, but they can address the controllable factors, as directed by Prayut.

Prayut’s threat to oust ministers and governors who fail to show results was a matter for his discretion, Varawut said, but everyone has to be focused on solving the problem, not clinging to power.

Prayut said on Monday neither PM2.5 nor the coronavirus outbreak required a “full exercising of the prime minister’s power” as yet since measures were in place and more solutions were in the pipeline, such as improved rail transportation to get more cars off the road.

Prayut said governors and ministers had been ordered to tackle PM2.5 sources, such as traffic jams, dust-generating construction sites and outdoor burning, and send regular updates to the Prime Minister’s Operation Centre. Their performance would be scrutinised and they would be held responsible for failures, he said.

Unsafe levels of PM2.5 landed Bangkok in 12th place on a list of the world’s worst-polluted cities on the mobile app Air Visual on Tuesday morning, while Chiang Mai ranked 16th.

The United States Air Quality Index gauged Bangkok’s air at 148 at 10am with a PM2.5 level of 54.7 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Chiang Mai was at 122 with 44.2mcg of PM2.5.

At 7am, the Pollution Control Department said, 39 of 57 air-quality-measuring stations in Greater Bangkok reported unsafe PM2.5 levels ranging from 52-76mcg, with Soi Lat Phrao 95 in Wang Thong Lang district and the Klong Kum area of Bung Kum district highest. The Thung Song Hong area in Lak Si district was at 72mcg.

The Thai safety limit is 50mcg, double the World Health Organisation’s recommended cap.

Bangkok Metropolitan Administration permanent secretary Silapasuay Raweesaengsoon offered a lower number for the capital, saying 27 areas were at an unsafe level at 7am on Tuesday.

But she urged residents, especially small children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems, to stay indoors as much as possible and wear a facemask if venturing outside.

City workers were busy cleaning roads and spraying water to reduce dust, she said.

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