I have no idea how many people opted to stay home during the weekend, as strongly suggested by Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, or how many fishermen chose to remain ashore and avoid being “arrested” for venturing out to sea, as the minister so sternly warned, because of the possibility of a storm surge and four-metre high waves being whipped up by Gaemi.
There is a general sense of relief among most Bangkokians, myself included, that the much-hyped prospect of another flood is over.
But the same cannot be said for our compatriots in the lower northeastern provinces such as Ubon Ratchathani, Si Sa Ket and Buri Ram, whose hopes that Gaemi would bring welcome, life-saving rain to their water-starved crops were dashed.
We Bangkokians are, instead, drowning in the flood of hot air pouring endlessly out of the mouths of politicians in both the Pheu Thai and Democrat camps over – guess what – sandbags in the drains.
Sandbags came to the public spotlight last week before Gaemi, then a tropical storm, made landfall, when Pheu Thai party spokesman Prompong Nopparit announced triumphantly to the media that sandbags and concrete slabs had been found stuffed in the sewers by prison inmates drafted in to help unclog the drains ahead of the storm.
He suggested there might be corruption in City Hall’s cleanup of the drainage system, which prompted the Department of Special Investigation to jump on the Pheu Thai bandwagon.
Since then, the hunt for sandbags in the city’s drains appears to have obsessed Mr Prompong and his colleague, Jirayu Huangsap, deputy government spokesman. More sandbags were found, this time on Srinakharin road.
And now science minister Plodprasop joined the fray, demanding the BMA to bare all and admit if any more sandbags were lurking in the sewers. All of them must be immediately removed.
He said that the method the City Hall used to control flooding in the Srinakhanin area, stuffing sandbags in the drains, was “the most lousy” in the world.
In reacting to the first discovery, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s top officials said that the sandbags were a “plant” to discredit City Hall, pointing out that the sandbags looked new, which should not be the case had they been there since the big flood last year.
And then, responding to the second discovery, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra threatened a lawsuit against anyone who removed the sandbags without consent. They are, after all, the city’s own sandbags, not the government’s.
He also accused the government of breaching the constitution in interfering in City Hall’s affairs.
I don’t know whether stuffing sandbags in the sewers would help prevent flooding or not, by redirecting the water as the BMA claimed. I believe many people may have doubts about this method of flood control. So, I believe, the sensible approach, to clear the air, is for city administrators to explain it in the presence of impartial water management experts, who may ask questions and challenge the feasibility of such action.
As for Mr Plodprasop, he should be less emotional and first make enquiries, seek answers from the city administrators, rather than going ballistic outright.
After all, we could remind him of the knee jerk remarks he made last week – such as “stay home if it is not necessary to go out” or “do not venture out into the sea as the waves could be as high as 4-5 metres”- all of which unnecessarily panicked the many people who believe in him.
Of course, Mr Plodprasop’s warnings were meant to ensure people’s safety. But, at the least, all the people working in flood and water management under his supervision should speak in one voice on matters of public safety and of serious concern – and not speak out in different voice on the same subject. It only adds to the confusion.
Thank God, or Phra Siam Thevathiraj, the guardian diety of Siam, that Bangkok was spared the feared flood from Gaemi. But in the event there is a real flood of the same magnitude as experienced last year, or even a bit less, my advice to my fellow Bangkokians is: Help yourself first and do not rely on the government or City Hall.
Because, if the truth be spoken, they themselves are badly in need of help – perhaps psychiatric counseling, or political anger management. Then maybe they will behave sensibly, act like mature people, and stop their childish bickering.