11 July 2024

Two years since taking office, Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt gives himself a lowly 5 out of 10 for his efforts to improve the lives of residents.

Voters who handed Chadchart a historic landslide victory in 2022 acknowledge his commitment but say that many of his promises remain unfulfilled.

Hopes were initially high that Chadchart, a doctor of engineering with a Master’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), had the expertise to tackle many of the city’s entrenched problems. 

“I had hoped that after he came to power, Bangkok’s flood problems would ease,” said Nuch, a 45-year-old office worker in the capital’s Bang Na district.

However, those hopes are draining fast. In his two years helming the city’s administration, Chadchart has failed to stem the chronic problem, with floods blocking city streets after every heavy downpour.

“Whenever it rains, my neighbourhood gets flooded,” Nuch said. “The only good thing is that the floodwaters drain quickly.”

Asked if she was satisfied with the work of Chadchart’s administration, Nuch said: “I’m not sure. But I’m fed up with the traffic jams and rising cost of living.”

She also noted that there isn’t a single public park in her neighbourhood, despite Chadchart campaigning on a promise to give every Bangkok household a park within a 15-minute walk.

Another Bangkokian complained about the lack of footpaths and said the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) wasn’t doing enough to reclaim city streets for pedestrians.

“I’ve lodged many complaints through the much-touted TraffyFondue platform, but the positive results are always short-lived,” she said.

Chadchart launched TraffyFondue as a way for residents to contact authorities for solutions of problems they encounter in the city.

After each complaint, she said, law enforcers show up within two weeks to clear sidewalks in her Bantadtong neighbourhood, which is famous for street food.

“The tables and chairs placed in front of food stalls disappear on the day of [the officials’] visit, but they are back on the sidewalk the following day,” said the resident, who asked for anonymity.

She said some stalls brazenly occupy the entire footpath with tables and chairs.

“I expected the BMA to come up with a more effective solution,” she said. “If there is a photographic record of shop owners breaking the law, they should be fined or face legal action.”

She likes to walk 5 kilometres from her home to her office, but often cannot face the obstacle course of chairs and tables on footpaths.

What Chadchart says

The governor admits his BMA may have fallen short in some areas, but has promised to work all out to fix the problems.

“I hope people find living in Bangkok less tiring. I want the city administration to be more efficient in enabling people to feel happier and enjoy quality life,” Chadchart said.

The BMA has so far cleared sidewalks in 370 locations and has targeted another 190 locations for removal of vendor clutter, he said. Chadchart promises the move will improve safety and convenience for pedestrians without removing their access to cheap, delicious street food.

“We have prepared new locations nearby for the stalls,” he said.

In the past two years, the BMA has also improved some 785 kilometres of sidewalks, he continued.

“We have also cleared some 627 kilometres of messy communication cables hanging overhead.”

More than 100 easy-to-access public parks had also mushroomed across the capital over the past two years, he added, pledging to create another 500 micro-green spaces during his tenure.

Education, healthcare a priority

While acknowledging the huge number of complaints about dust and traffic congestion, Chadchart insists that his focus on education and healthcare is justified.

“BMA-run schools received 20,000 new computers during my term. I’m also encouraging teachers to focus more on their classes by authorizing BMA schools to hire administrative staff.”

He added that his administration has also updated the curriculum at 437 schools so that students can keep pace with the changing world.

Under Chadchart, the BMA has also upgraded its primary healthcare facilities to avoid overcrowding in big hospitals. These primary healthcare units have extended their opening hours to 8pm to boost accessibility for 9-to-5 working people.

What activists say

Saree Ongsomwang, secretary-general of the Thailand Consumers Council, said she appreciates Chadchart’s dedication in tackling the capital’s problems, citing TraffyFondue and the bold step of paying 23 billion baht to the BTS Skytrain operator for its services.

“But I think the BMA is moving backwards when it comes to setting up a feeder and public bus system,” she said. “So, I give Chadchart a failing grade when it comes to public transport.”

She also expressed disappointment that Chadchart had not kept his election promise to lower BTS fares. And she highlighted the lack of action against high-rises popping up in small lanes and affecting residents’ quality of life.

Nimit Tien-udom, who sits on the National Health Security board, claimed the BMA’s healthcare system has weakened under Chadchart’s leadership.

“Many patients have reported problems with utilizing their universal healthcare rights in Bangkok,” he said. “Some BMA healthcare centers have refused to register more patients under the scheme because they are already at maximum capacity.”

While Nimit saw positive signs at Ratchaphiphat Hospital, which has embraced the BMA policy of offering treatment to patients under all healthcare schemes, he said the initiative should be expanded to cover as many people as possible.

“BMA’s healthcare affairs are difficult to manage,” Nimit conceded. He said Chadchart would only be able to handle Bangkok’s healthcare system if he could jolt city bureaucrats out of their inertia.

Story by Thai PBS World’s General Desk
Photo : One of Chadchart’s election campaign illustrations in 2022.