Friday, August 19, 2011

Sanitary districts 1897-1933

For three years already I buy the latest issue of Rian Thai, an academic periodical featuring short articles on various Tai study topics, published by the Institute of Thai Studies of the Chulalongkorn University. Even though most of the article are either beyond my level of knowledge, or are about topics less interesting for me, at a price of 200 Baht for a 300+ pages book it always contains at least something worth reading. Volume 3 published in 2010 was the first which contains something directly related to the topics I blog about. In the article "Changing Bangkok: The Effects of European Settlers and Their Subjects" by PhD student Malinee Khumsupha (มาลินี คุ้มสุภา) includes a description of the changes in administration in Bangkok in the early 20th century. I am quoting the part directly dealing with the sanitary districts (Sukhaphiban).
[...] In fact, Jacquemyns had recommended these since 1892, but he emphasized them again in 1897, along with the significant document known as The Outline of Scheme for the Creation of Municipality of Bangkok.
Accordingly, even King Chulalongkorn agreed with the recommendations, but he worried about these following problems. Firstly, the absence of political participation experience of the Siamese; secondly, that the Siamese may be forced to pay tax alone because the refusal to pay tax by Europeans and Asiatic subjects who claimed extraterritoriality rights; and lastly, it was not suitable to apply at that time. In spite of the fact that there were some arguments, Sukhaphiban was established by The Sanitary Decree of 1897. However, the adoption of participation did not appear in Bangkok at that time, but eight years later came to terms in 1905. The application of local self-governing was known as Sukhaphiban Hua Muang (Sanitary District) at Tha-Chalom District in Samut Sakhon Province, and was called Sukhaphiban Hua Muang Thambon Tha-Chalom, Changwat Samut Sakhon. Two years following, the Act of Sanitary District was enacted in 1908. Throughout the following years, other sanitary districts were formed in certain major cities, and played a significant role in public services at the local level until the end of the absolute monarchy when the act was modified in 1915 and abolished by the Municipal Act in 1933. The sanitary districts during 1915-1933 increased to thirty six districts for 25 years.
As I know almost nothing about the sanitary district except their names and numbers, even more interesting than the above quoted text are the references given. Especially the 2006 dissertation "Sukhaphiban: Local Administration in Siam 1897-1933" (สุขาภิบาล: การปกครองท้องที่สยาม พ.ศ. 2440-2476) by Maetheepat Jeongwarotai (เมธีพัชญ์ จงวโรทัย) caught my interest, Sadly the only thing in English is the abstract
The objective of this thesis is to study the evolution of "Sukhaphiban" during 1897-1933. Starting from the reign of King Rama V when Western Colonialism became the most serious threat, the king believed that the promotion of civilization was the only way to prevent the nation from being subjected to 'the White Man's Burden'. Thus he launched "Sukhaphiban", local administration systems led by bureaucrats, to 'civilize' his subjects and towns. During the reigns of King Rama VI and Rama VII, the political situations changed significantly. People in increasing number demanded their basic rights and political participation. Soon, Siamese elites realized that "Sukhaphiban" no longer matched the demand. There was a wide discussion among the elites about the idea of "Municipality" a system that would allow local citizens to elect their own representatives. Nevertheless, it was only after the 1932 revolution that this system was truly introduced and implemented
Thanks to a friend working in a Thai university I have the full text of the dissertation now, but as it is a scanned PDF I really have to read it and cannot do the shortcut through Google Translate - so it will take quite long until I can post any interesting details I learned from that dissertation.

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