Starchitect Duangrit Bunnag, 49, landed himself in hot water not once, but twice late last year: firstly as an outspoken critic of the government’s proposed Chao Phraya River promenade project; and then for announcing its alleged plans to close Knowledge Management and Development (OKMD), the public organization which oversees TCDC. BK caught up with him to get the latest on these developments.
What’s the status of the TCDC?
We don’t know what will transpire. The government just revoked the Prime Minister’s Office’s creative economy act. They’re talking about stimulating the economy, but there’s no engine to make that happen. Tourism has its limits. So, why would you put an end to the creative economy, an initiative that’s been supported by many previous governments?
How do you feel about the government’s decision?
I’m pretty sick of them, to be honest. They don’t really care about how to drive the economy; they’re just trying to survive the immediate political situation. Even though they’re a temporary government, they need to be thinking long-term. The current government wasn’t voted in—they aren’t the people’s representative, so they don’t know what the people want. They are all public servants. They’re on the payroll, so they don’t really care what the economy is like.
Have you tried to broach this topic with them?
They manage everything in a bureaucratic style. They don’t need to listen to us because there is no system to force them to listen to us. I don’t want to form a mob. It’s an outdated form of protest, and past experience shows that taking to the streets doesn’t help. We’re just voicing our opinion; if people agree with us, we can make some impact.
You’re also opposed to the government’s riverfront promenade project. Can you update us on this matter?
It’s all about corruption, stemming from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s [BMA] public works department and flowing over to the government. It’s plain to see. The Chao Phraya River has its unique character. If you cover it with development, who will appreciate its charms? They want to rush this project when, in fact, it requires a lengthy study of at least 5-10 years by city planners, not engineers and architects. If the promenade causes great damage to the river and its nearby communities, who will be held responsible? [Update: Last week, BMA’s public works department agreed to sign a B120-million contract with King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang to act as advisor on the study of the river promenade project over a period of seven months.]
So what does Bangkok really need?
We need someone with leadership. It’s not about authority, it’s about taking responsibility. If there’s a flood, they should say “OK, we will handle this” instead of telling us to go live in the mountains. The junta said they will clamp down on corruption. Have you seen any positive progress? When there’s no accountability, how can we believe progress has been made?
How we can we begin to solve these problems?
Thais are stuck on appearances. If there’s a corruption case, let’s blame someone and get rid of them. But the fact is, the corruption doesn’t end there. For example, the rice scheme. It might be true that there was corruption under the Yingluck government, but the problem runs much deeper than that. It started from our public servants providing poor rice seeds that required chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The farmers needed to take out loans to buy chemicals then needed the guaranteed money from the rice scheme to pay back their debts. Why don’t we talk about this hidden corruption?