CHIANG RAI – Thailand’s Interior Ministry has launched a probe into a project conceived by Chiang Rai’s Municipality to build an iconic giant elephant statue on an islet in the middle of the Kok River.
The controversy centers on a large tract of land forming the islet. The land is close to the Mae Fa Luang bridge in Muang district.
Opponents of the project insisted it may be illegal to use the strip of land in the river to construct a statue of the elephant rode by King Mengrai, who founded Chiang Rai centuries ago.
Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osotthanakon has reportedly put the brakes on the project pending a check on the status of the islet, although local administrative officials had met and green-lit the project, on which work has started.
A fact-finding panel, led by deputy permanent secretary for interior Suphachai Iamsuwan, has over the past week questioned state agencies, including Chiang Rai Municipality which initiated the project, and the Treasury Department which owns the land covering more than 24 rai.
Initial findings from the team have not been revealed.
Chiang Rai municipal mayor Wanchai Chongsutthamani insisted yesterday his agency had properly followed a procedure to approve the project at a meeting attended by about 100 senior officials and experts. The meeting also agreed to push ahead with a budget to finance construction of the statue.
The project was estimated to cost 32 million baht, which also covers the development of an area on the river bank close to the islet. The area belongs to the Territorial Defence Command.
Included in the project blueprint is a public park with bicycle lanes. The elephant statue will be constructed in a way to pay homage to King Mengrai, who founded the city of Chiang Rai in the Kok River basin in 1262.
According to history, he had followed the elephant until he arrived at an area where he decided to establish the city. The elephant was captured and became his prized pachyderm.
Mr Wanchai said he thought there was no problem with developing the land. While it is true the Treasury Department has been granted a right to the land for more than 20 years, it allowed the municipality to carry out development in 2005, Mr Wanchai said, adding the municipality has planted trees on the land.
Mr Wanchai stressed the municipality only acts as a project initiator without involving in any auction or procurement plans related to the project.
Such work is to be overseen by Chiang Rai provincial office.