Laws prohibiting foreign architects from working in Thailand may be outdated, architects say, after the controversy erupted as the building was officially opened on Monday night.
German architect Ole Scheeren, who designed the building — a 77-storey high-rise structure — has drawn criticism for allegedly breaching a rule imposed by the Ministry of Labour.
The regulation reserves 39 professions for Thai nationals — among them, architecture and civil engineering — as well as several traditional crafts.
“These restrictions are a thing of the past,” said Jedkamchorn Phromyothi, president of the Architects Council of Thailand (ACT). With globalisation, it becomes harder to restrict a profession and allow only Thai nationals to exercise it”, he said.
Nonetheless, Mr Jedkamchorn acknowledged professionals’ fears that projects and contracts could go to foreign companies if restrictions are lifted.
The ministry’s rule became a pressing issue after activist Srisuwan Janya filed a petition with the Office of the Ombudsman Wednesday, asking it to examine whether Mr Scheeren and the project’s developer, Pace Development, had breached Thai laws.
Mr Srisuwan, a lawyer is well known among activists with a pro-nationalist agenda, and heads his own so-called Association of Organisations Protecting the Thai Constitution.
Before taking up the MahaNakhon case, he was involved in dispute last October with the military regime when he filed, also at the Ombudsman’s office, charges of of nepotism and ethics failure against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for allegedly hiring family members of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.
Prior to that, as president of a separate group he calls the Stop Global Warming Association, he was known as a fighter against big business firms he accused of polluting, especially in the Map Ta Phut area of Rayong.
In the petition he filed Wednesday, Mr Srisuwan questioned whether the German architect breached the 1999 act — drafted to control the commercial activities of immigrants — or another act passed in 2008 to control work activities of immigrants.
Mr Jedkamchorn added the council had filed a complaint with police against Mr Scheeren in 2010 after hearing news the German national would lead the iconic building’s design.
According to the Architecture Act, architects must hold a licence issued by the ACT to legally design buildings. That was not the case with Mr Scheeren, he said.
In 2015, however, Mr Scheeren became a shareholder in a Thai company that went on to obtain such a licence from the council. Mr Jedkamchorn declined to comment on the complaint.
Meanwhile, Pichai Wongwaisayawan, former chairman of the Association of Siamese Architects argued Thai architects could benefit from a transfer of technology and know-how when working in collaboration with foreign counterparts.
Following the launch of the Asean Economic Community, architecture became open to recognised professionals from other Asean member countries.
“It’s a first step. We must progress gradually,” Mr Pichai said. The government must help architects in this transition period, he added.