Counting the cost to our ecology

Flag of Thailand.svg

Thung Yai Naresuan WIldlife Sanctuary chief Wichian Chinwong, left, after arresting Premchai, centre, on February 4, leading to discovery of butchered wild animals, including a female black leopard. Courtesy of DNP.

national April 01, 2018 01:00





HOW MUCH would a black leopard cost if it could be valued and tagged with a price?

For nearly a week, a team at the National Parks Department has been working out the monetary values of the five-year-old black leopard and other animals allegedly killed by the construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta and his party.

It’s a challenging task, as it is the first time that values of wild animals would be scientifically assessed in order to facilitate compensation over the ecological damage caused by killing them.

“We are trying to base our valuation of these animals on available science,” said a senior forest official involved in the process.

As criminal legal proceedings against Premchai are advancing, questions over the ecological damage done by the party have been raised by the prosecutors, prompting concerned officials to team up to work out a value in monetary terms.

On March 26, the department’s chief, Thanya Netithammakul, signed an order to set up an ad-hoc panel to work on the matter.

Led by his deputy, Jongklai Worapongsathorn, the panel pulls together wildlife experts and veterinarians, including well-known tiger researcher Saksit Simcharoen, head of the wildlife conservation bureau, and Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, chief of the department’s forest crime suppression task force, Phaya Sua.

According to sources, the panel has pooled their knowledge from various sources, including the department’s wildlife breeding stations, in order to figure out the ecological damage and costs in connection to the incident.

As a result, the three main animals – the black leopard, a kalij pheasant, and a wild boar – that were killed at the scene of the alleged crime were chosen as their prime subjects for valuation.

The panel noted that the costs to the environment, which has also possibly been damaged, have not been included in the valuation, as there is not yet sufficient scientific knowledge to help assess them. The panel devised the value based on the cost of breeding and raising these animals at wildlife breeding stations.

It determined from expert advice that a black leopard would live for 18 years at most, or 12 years on average. When a female black leopard reaches an age between 2.5 and 3 years, it can breed, and one female can have up to eight offspring in her lifetime.

To raise one offspring of a black leopard to a similar age as the one shot dead – around 5 years – the stations would have to pay for its food, medicine and extra training so that it could familiarise itself with its natural habitat and survive after being released. However, not all offspring survive. The experts noted that each black leopard raised and released to the wild has only a 20 per cent chance of survival.

As a result, the panel decided to multiply the costs for raising one black leopard by five, jumping from Bt2.55 million to Bt12.75 million.

For a kalij pheasant, the total costs for an animal raised at a wildlife station is Bt12,612. But each kalij pheasant has only a 50 per cent chance to survive in the wild after the release, so the costs were doubled to Bt25,224. And the last animal, a wild boar, was tagged at a price of Bt22,500.

The panel has so far calculated the costs for damage done to the three animal species at around Bt12.798 million.

The same senior forest official said the department has learned the necessity of valuing ecological services following the incident, realising that there are not yet sufficient measurements in place to help it address the values of the ecosystems under its protection – and the costs when they are damaged.

Precedent for similar cases

Buntoon Srethasirote, an environmental economist at the Good Governance for Social Development and the Environment Institute (GSEI), and a member of the Natural Resources and Environmental Reform Committee, has been observing the department’s move, realising that this will be a precedent for similar cases to follow.

Buntoon said evaluation of ecological damage is a body of knowledge that has been developed over some time and put in place in the international community already.

It’s part of “environmental economics”, which has introduced various approaches to ecological valuation, including the “willingness to pay principle” and the “replacement cost principle”, which is being used in the case of the black leopard. In Thailand, however, the knowledge is still mostly at a research stage, and has hardly been applied to real cases.

The Thailand Development Research Institute has assessed the value of Khao Yai National Park, the world heritage site, in order to further calculate how much visitors should pay to enter and enjoy the nature there.

The GSEI, under supervision of its president, Suthawan Sathirathai, conducted research to assess the values of mangroves along with international experts in an attempt to address their values in economic terms via their ecological services, including absorbing carbon. The department itself, also tried to develop a module to assess and calculate the values of forests and the costs in relation to deforestation, once known as the global warming module.

However, it, was strongly criticised by environmental economists and mathematics modellers for its apparently faulty methodologies, which tried to link local temperatures with a macro scale of global warming and climate change. This prompted faulty logic in addressing the true values of the ecosystems and costs of the damage done.

By law, Buntoon pointed out, the idea to claim compensation from those damaging the environment is actually addressed as a “polluter pays” principle in the National Environmental Quality Act BE 2535. However, the law falls short in addressing how to claim compensation – a challenge that the environment reform committee has taken up.

Buntoon said the committee has worked out how to address the issue in its effort to push forward environmental justice reform. The issue would be especially critical when the environmental court is set up and legal proceedings are underway.

Buntoon conceded that, in the beginning, there would be no certain formulas to help address the values of the environment and the ecosystems as they are varied.

The committee has proposed a panel of experts be set up to work out the values case-by-case. Over time, similar cases would hopefully eventually deliver certain approaches to help figure the values and costs of our environment and natural resources, he said.

“There would not be a thing like a module or a formula that could be applied to every case immediately, but we hope that the knowledge in this area would be accumulated over time and provide us certain approaches that can be applied to similar cases,” said Buntoon.

As for the Thung Yai black leopard case, he sees this as an attempt to base the valuation on scientific knowledge available. At least, he said, it closely follows the replacement-cost principle that has been adopted worldwide.

For Petch Manopawitr, a conservationist and a deputy director and Thailand programme coordinator of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Southeast Asia, the problem with conservation work is that it is generally seen as intangible, not being able to be measured or valued.

Often, ecosytems are seen as valueless, as they cannot be valued in monetary terms – and this has become a problem when it comes to development, Petch said.

This issue has become more critical as natural resources and the environment have been degraded or depleted worldwide in recent decades.

IUCN, he said, has been working with its partners in the project, Natural Capital Protocol, to create a framework to help measure and value ecological services derived from natural capital, as well as the impacts of business entities on these resources.

In Thailand, measuring natural capital has been explored in the case of the Mae Wong dam project, under which its ecosystems and ecological services were valued.

Petch saw the case of the black leopard as a challenge for concerned authorities to think harder. They need to be able to explain their logic to the people to gain their acceptance.

“The black leopard case, if successful, would set a precedent for others to follow. It’s not just a criminal offence that people would face when they illegally exploit natural resources and the environment, but they would face a civil case that helps reflect the true ecological loss. This, in turn, will help deter them,” said Petch.

Supaporn Malailoy, an environmental justice advocate at EnLaw, the Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants, which has lent legal support in environmental cases, including the Klity lead-contamination case, agreed with Petch that environmental problems worldwide have reached a critical point. Natural resources and the environment have been exploited to the point of being irreparable.

To ensure their sustainability and their capacity to sustain other lives, Supaporn saw the need to put in place valuations and measurements on these natural resources, especially via Strategic Environmental Assessments. This would help ensure that the health of the environment would be taken into account in the first place before any development projects proceed.

Citing the long-resolved Klity case, Supaporn said the issue was also about environmental justice.

If the black leopard was killed purely for pleasure, then the wrongdoers should be punished more severely than others, she said.

“It’s critical, how to charge wrongdoers in environmental cases, and this is about environmental justice that needs to be addressed critically,” said Supaporn.

Source  :  The NATION

Migrant workers rush to complete registration

Flag of Thailand.svg

Migrant workers throng One Stop Service Centres nationwide to complete their registration, which ended at midnight.

national April 01, 2018 01:00


MIGRANT WORKERS and their employers yesterday kept labour officials busy across Thailand as tens of thousands of them attempted to beat yesterday’s midnight deadline for official registration to work legally.

From now on, the Labour Ministry said employers and illegal migrants would face heavy fines if caught by law-enforcement officers.

At the Labour Ministry’s Zeer Rangsit centre near Bangkok, thousands of Cambodian, Lao and Myanmar nationals who work in Thailand, as well as their employers, were seen queuing to register. It was the final day of the February 5-March 31 period for registration, and the ministry has said there will be no further extensions to the deadline.

According to the ministry, the Zeer Rangsit centre has a capacity to process about 2,000 workers per day, but there were as many as 4,000 yesterday. As a result, only those who booked their place in the queue in advance were served, while newcomers were asked to pre-register online for a later service.

In other major provincial cities in the North, Northeast, South and West, the scenes were similar to that in Bangkok, as both workers and employers did not want to miss the last chance to register.

In the southern province of Surat Thani, 90 per cent of migrant workers are Myanmar nationals due to the proximity to the border with that country.

The northeastern province of Buri Ram saw 1,578 migrant workers out of a total of 2,123 complete the registration process, with representation from all three nationalities -– Laotian, Cambodian and Myanmar.

In Tak province, which is near the Thai-Myanmar border, more than 1,000 migrant workers registered to work legally in Thailand on the last day.

More than 20,000 had previously completed the registration process.

In the southern province of Songkhla, the last day of registration was very busy, even though about 18,000 migrant workers from all three neighbouring countries had already registered to work legally in Thailand.

In the northeastern province of Udon Thani, 985 migrant workers had already registered to work legally, while more than 4,500 migrant workers had completed their registration in the southern province of Trang.


Source :  THE nation multimedia

New efforts to rescue digital TV licensees

Flag of Thailand.svg

national April 01, 2018 01:00



THE National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has vowed to push forward a rescue package to help lift the financial burden on digital television licence holders. This follows the refusal on Tuesday by General Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), to use his special powers under Article 44 of the interim constitution to help the embattled broadcasters.

“The NBTC’s priority is to solve the problem of digital TV,” Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, said yesterday at a forum at Thai PBS headquarters on how the local press can survive in the digital era.

He said that the NBTC would take a proposal back to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is chairman of a committee responsible for the issue, next week. It would then be up to Wissanu whether he takes the proposal to Prayut.

 Takorn said he was confident that the proposal to assist the licence holders was in the best interests of the country. However, Prayut has said he wants the NBTC to explain how the public would benefit.

Critics objected to a previous rescue package presented to Prayut, which also included financial relief for telecoms operators. The proposal to assist digital TV broadcasters includes a three-year debt moratorium on unpaid licence fees and 50 per cent reduction in ground network fees for 24 months.

Takorn said he actually did not want Prayut to invoke Article 44; he wanted the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to make a change to the NBTC law to allow the resale of digital TV licences. This would permanently solve the issue. The proposed amendment to the NBTC law is pending NLA scrutiny.

He said TV broadcasters had already paid licence fees of Bt34 billion, or 68 per cent of the total cost. New investors might be willing to shoulder the remaining cost of 32 per cent if licences could change hands without legal constraint. New investors may think it a good investment, as the remaining digital TV concession period of 11 years is an incentive.

The current law allows the entry of new shareholders to a company that has a digital TV licence, but does not allow licences to change hands between firms.

Takorn also said the NBTC wants to change the way of bidding on digital TV licences or mobile phone spectrum, as the previous system relied too much on pricing, with the highest bidder always winning the licence. The new bidding procedure should rely on other factors such as best interests of the public.

“It should be a hybrid bidding system taking into account pricing and public interest,” Takorn said, noting that many countries had adopted this approach.

Meanwhile, Triruj Navamarat, president of the Media Agency Association of Thailand, said at the same forum that advertising spending is expected to grow 4 per cent this year.

Last year’s total advertising spending was Bt101 billion and, of this, half was spent on TV ads. Among digital TV broadcasters, channel 3 and channel 7 received about 70-80 per cent of the TV ads spending. Triruj suggested that those TV broadcasters who were not among the top 10 might need to improve their marketing.


Source :  The NATION

Two Iraqis killed in remnant explosive blast in Anbar

Flag of Iraq.svg

Rawa ( Two Iraqi civilians were killed when an explosive device leftover from Islamic State’s occupation of Anbar province went off, a military source was quoted saying on Thursday

Alsumaria News quoted the source saying that two civilians were cleaning up their home in Rawa, a former Islamic State militants’ stronghold in western Anbar, but the house turned out to be booby-trapped, and exploded with them inside.

On Wednesday, an army officer and a shepherd were killed in the same city due to leftover explosive ordnance.Islamic State militants invaded several Iraqi cities in 2014 and proclaimed a self-styled Islamic “Caliphate”. An Iraqi government campaign, backed by a United States-led coalition managed to retake areas occupied by the militants, ending with Rawa, IS’s last bastion in the country, which was retaken in November.

Leftover explosives continue to pose a threat at areas seized back from the militants, occasionally leaving deaths among civilians and security memners, according to local news reports.

Fawzi Yassin, commander of the province’s civil defense directorate, told Alsumaria News in December that the service’s teams, over the past two years, cleared and destroyed more than 38.174 projectiles from areas recaptured by security forces.

Since 2015, United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) cleared 390 priority locations in Falluja and Ramadi in Anbar province, removing more than 2,600 explosive hazards from areas reclaimed from Islamic State.


Source :  Iraqi News

Yazidi, PKK elements in talks to join Iraqi army

Flag of Iraq.svg

Sinjar ( Yazidi fighters who fought the Islamic State alongside the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq are in talks with the Iraqi army to join it.

Saad Hamu, a Yazidi journalist, told Sputnik News on Thursday that nearly 1000 Yazidi fighters, including 300 femals, who remained in Sinjar, west of Nineveh’s Mosul, after PKK’s recent pullout, are in negotiations with the Iraqi government to enlist them in the Iraqi army.

Earlier this week, Sinjar’s mayor, Mahma Khalil, reported the PKK’s pullout from Sinjar and the arrival of Iraqi army vanguards to the region.

PKK said in an earlier statement it was withdrawing from the mainly-Yazidi region as it managed to protect the locals from Islamic State militants whose defeat the Iraqi government declared last December.

IS militants had massacred thousands of Yazidis and held others hostage after they overran a third of Iraqi territories in 2014.

Turkey declared recently it was eyeing an offensive in Sinjar against the PKK, whom Ankara brands as terrorists, but Iraq officially rejected the announcement, assuring it would not allow the use of its territories for military action against any neighboring country.

Turkish warplanes has regularly pounded PKK locations in northern Iraq.

Source :  Iraq News

Four Islamic State members arrested in operation, west of Mosul: Military intelligence

Flag of Iraq.svg

Mosul ( Four Islamic State members were arrested in a security operation carried out in Mosul, the Iraqi military intelligence said on Thursday.

In a statement, the department said, “military intelligence personnel managed to arrest four terrorists in Mosul Old City, al-Shura and Hammam al-Alil regions, depending on accurate information.”

“One of them is wanted by the department,” it added.

Security troops declare arresting Islamic State members hiding in Nineveh every now and then.

Earlier today, security troops arrested Wali (governor) of Mosul and Wali of Qayyarah in an operation carried out in al-Mahana village.

Twelve IS members were arrested on Wednesday in an operation carried out in al-Boweir village, west of Mosul. On Tuesday, the command said eighteen IS members, including foreign leaders, were killed in a security operation, south of Mosul. On the same day, the command said fourteen militants were arrested in operations carried out in west and south of the city.

Thousands of IS militants as well as Iraqi civilians were killed since the government campaign, backed by paramilitary troops and the coalition was launched in October 2016 to fight the militant group, which declared a self-styled “caliphate” from Mosul in June 2014.

Islamic State continues to launch sporadic attacks across Iraq against troops. Security reports indicate that the militant group still poses threat against stability in the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced, in December, full liberation of Iraqi lands, declaring end of war against IS members.


Source :  Iraqi News

Amer centres: The one-stop point for all visa services in Dubai

Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg

Filed on March 30, 2018 | Last updated on March 30, 2018 at 09.22 pm

The smart typing centres in Dubai are under tight inspection by immigration officers to avoid flaws in the services.

There has been no increase in visa application fees since the introduction of the one-stop Amer centres for residency-related services, immigration officers have confirmed.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Major Salem Mohammad bin Ali, director of Amer Client Happiness Centre at the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA), denied claims that visa application fees have gone up since the smart typing centres were introduced across Dubai.

“The fee for printing a visa application form has always been a Dh100, following a 2014 ministerial decision. However, the system is now supervised by the GDRFA to ensure that customers are charged the same amount,” said Bin Ali.

He said in the past, typing centres introduced different prices to attract customers, often violating the system. The fee, unified among all Amer centres, will not be increased for the next three years as per the earlier federal decision that announced a stable expense to public services.

Introducing Amer centres that allow people to finish visa-related transactions and other government services under direct supervision of the GDRFA has been a way to promote healthy competition environment among centres managed by Emirati private investors, Bin Ali said.

Since May, the GDRFA officials have been opening up the centres that allow people renew visa, apply for an entry permit and visit visas, besides finishing visa cancellation and Emirates ID services among other related government services provided by entities like the Dubai Courts, the Dubai Municipality and the Department of Economic Development.

So far, 21 centres are opened across Dubai and that will tally up to 40 by the end of June. At the end of 2018, 70 centres will be open, providing job opportunities to over 1,000 Emiratis. Residents can also finish their visa-related transactions through more than 45 Tas’heel centres across the UAE, of which 14 are located in Dubai.

Amer centres, opened with the aim to contribute to people’s happiness, are fully operated by trained Emirati staff (a minimum of 15) and smart equipment with the capability to finish at least 6,000 transactions daily.

Customers can finish their transactions through a self-service kiosk deployed at the centre or through Amer’s app and website that eliminate the need to visit the branches.

The number of transactions carried out by Amer centres during January and February of this year reached over 89,000. Of these, 35,666 were completed in January while 51,124 transactions were carried out in February.

A tight monitoring system

Through a smart system, immigration officers keep an eye on Amer centres to avoid flaws in applications. First-Lieutenant Salem Hassan Abdulla, head of Amer Centres Section at the GDRFA, said the system monitors and notifies authorities of any application that has been reverted due to typing mistakes or missing documents.

“Mistakes are generally much lower than before when we had typing centres, and that’s because now we have a system in place that sends notifications in case something went wrong,” said Abdulla. Fines apply to these centres in cases of violation.

Abdullah said mystery shoppers are also deployed to report adherence to conditions including space, hygiene, customer service, Emiratisation and employee training.

To open up a centre, local private investors submit an application of the government services to authorities who give certain conditions including design, space, equipment, and staff training. After initial preview, an approval to start up a centre is granted. “When centres open, we make sure staff employed is fully trained,” said Abdulla.

He stated that investors are encouraged to treat Amer centres like a business that needs marketing and good management to promote healthy competition.

The aim behind Amer, Abdulla said, is to provide a monitored system that increases efficiency and saves time, thus contributing to customer happiness. He added that the centres already reduced customer visits from two touch points to one, as residents now finish their transactions in one place without having to visit the GDRFA headquarters.

Authorities are also studying reward system for centres with the best services based on customer feedback. To complete transactions smoothly, residents are urged to bring in their completed documents to avoid disruptions in the application procedure.


Source :  The Khaleej Times