Thailand: Govt U-turns on land plan

The government is reportedly backing down from its plan to allow wealthy foreigners to purchase up to one rai of land for residential purposes in return for investments, after the proposal drew fierce criticism.

Chayawut Chanthorn, director of the Department of Land, said on Monday that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon had approved the withdrawal of the Interior Ministry’s draft regulation on land ownership by foreigners.

The draft regulation, which was approved in principle by the cabinet last month, allows four groups of well-to-do foreigners with a long-term resident visa to buy up to one rai of land for residential purposes, if they invest at least 40 million baht in the country for at least three years.

However, the policy, which is aimed at attracting more foreign investments to the country, has drawn flak from critics who accused the government of “selling off” the country.

Mr Chayawut said the Interior Ministry submitted a letter to Gen Prawit last week seeking to withdraw the proposal, and that Gen Prawit endorsed the request on Monday morning before it was forwarded to the cabinet’s secretariat.

“The ministry decided to withdraw the draft regulation due to widespread public concerns and if the cabinet agrees with the decision, the ministry will take the chance to review it and decide if it will continue with or drop the proposal,” he said.

According to Mr Chayawut, the ministry’s 2002 regulation on land ownership by foreigners would remain intact if the revised regulation was dropped.

Mr Chayawut’s remarks followed media reports that Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda would ask the cabinet to withdraw the draft regulation on land ownership today.

Gen Anupong had told the House of Representatives last week that the land policy could still be scrapped if there were serious public concerns.

A source at Government House said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was deeply concerned by the criticisms and that it was highly likely that the draft regulation would be ditched altogether.

“If the cabinet agrees with the withdrawal request, the Council of State will be informed and it will drop its examination [of the draft legislation],” said the source. The Council of State is the government’s legal arm.

Under the proposed regulation, wealthy global citizens, wealthy pensioners, those who want to work from Thailand, and highly skilled professionals or specialists can purchase up to one rai of land in Bangkok, the Pattaya municipality or any municipal area specified as a residential zone.

Gen Prayut on Monday declined to comment on the issue.

Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow said on Monday that if the public disagrees with the policy, the government will listen to their concerns.

“If people feel uncomfortable about it and the regulation has to be withdrawn, so be it. The public should take their time because it is just an option,” he said.

Mr Supattanapong said the government understood the public’s concerns and is willing to make improvements.

He also played down concerns about the impact of the policy U-turn, saying the government will do its best to explain the issue to foreign investors.

Meanwhile, property developers on Monday called on the government to clarify the regulations to prevent property speculation, as they believed the policy would benefit the economy.

Atip Peechanont, honorary chairman of the Housing Business Association, said on Monday the government should listen to criticism and make changes to the land policy.

Pipat Luengnaruemitchai, chief economist at Kiatnakin Phatra Securities, said on Monday the policy has pros and cons which the government must weigh carefully.

However, he said the government should not focus solely on wealthy foreigners or pensioners as these individuals are not totally investment-oriented.