BANGKOK — Thai junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha has conceded that the emergency powers granted to him under the interim constitution will not be enough to address concerns about illegal fishing in the time frame demanded by the European Union.
On 21 April, the EU announced that Thailand has six months to institute new measures to counter illegal fishing, or else face a potential import ban that will cost Thailand at least 20 billion baht in lost revenue. Thailand is the world's third-largest exporter of seafood.
Over the past few days, Thai government officials have told reporters that Gen. Prayuth will solve the issue by invoking Article 44 of the interim charter, which grants him essentially unchecked power to issue new laws.
However, Gen. Prayuth, who is also Prime Minister, is due to tell the nation tonight that Article 44 will not be adequate to fix the problems in the fishing industry.
"I cannot use Article 44 to solve every problem," Gen. Prayuth said in a videotaped speech that will air on Friday night. "I cannot use it to solve expensive lemons, or to solve the economy … Article 44 is for allowing military officers to do what they could not do in the past. Now they can help them [police]. That's the point."
Earlier this month, Gen. Prayuth issued an order through Article 44 that allows military officers to act as law enforcers.
"We won't be able to meet [the EU’s deadline] because the issues are so numerous," Gen. Prayuth said in tonight’s speech. "Registering fishing boats alone is already difficult. In few days, in few months, we cannot do all of this. And we have received little cooperation so far, too."
He continued, "From now on, I will set up centers in different ports. I will assign soldiers and police to guard them. Each ship that comes and goes must cooperate with us. That is how I will use [Article 44]. If they leave without reporting, if they don't know where their crew are, that's wrong, and that's what causes the problem that gives me headaches every day."
Experts say many Thai fishing boats are unregistered and unregulated, and there is no effective record of where fish is caught, or who is working on the boats. The lack of oversight has allowed Thai boats to fish in neighboring countries' waters, and also staff their ships with illegal and often abused labor.
Last year, the United States government downgraded Thailand to the lowest ranking in its annual report on human trafficking, citing the widespread use of trafficked labor in the Thai seafood industry.
"The problem is quite heavy, because we have never solved it," Gen. Prayuth said in tonight’s speech. "Don't let your spirit down. Turn a crisis into an opportunity. Create understanding. Join hands together. The media has to help, too.
He continued, "In terms of effort, the EU sympathizes with our effort. They see our effort, and they are giving us chance to improve. I think there's hope that we may improve in the time they set for us. But it depends on all of us."