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Wicha’ means knowledge

Dr Wicha Jiwalai
Dr Wicha Jiwalai
[email protected]

Dr Wicha Jiwalai, Chairman, Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISDTA), Thailand is a person of a perfect blending of academics, administration and business. He is the one who can dare to do things in an unconventional manner. Born in the vicinity of Bangkok, in a business family, Wicha chose to study. More because of the influence of his elder sister who happened to be a teacher in a primary school. After getting the first degree in civil engineering from Chulalongkorn University, he could have easily joined the Railways of Thailand. Instead he chose to become a member of the Faculty of the Engineering at Chulalongkorn University. In 1969, he was awarded a fellowship to pursue higher studies in ITC, the Netherlands. He did his PhD from the Ohio State University, USA in Geodetic Sciences in 1979. He returned to Thailand and continued to work in the Department of Survey Engineering at Chulalongkorn University.

A major turn came when in 1985 he was invited to join City Administration as Deputy Governor of Bangkok. He was in charge of public works, city planning, cleansing, etc. After that tenure when he was contemplating upon rejoining academics, instead surprisingly in 1989, he started freelance consultancy in engineering at his own business in real estate. Why this? Dr Wicha said, “This is because some of my friends wanted cosy apartments and they decided to do it on their own. They sought my help.” In November 2000, he became Chairman, GISTDA.

Dr Wicha doesn’t have any specific likings for music and food. All depends on his mood. And about disliking – he says that “Buddhism teaches not to dislike”. However, he adds, “I don’t like conflict and war.” In this context he believes that media needs to play a more responsible role while transmitting news relating to violence and other entertainment stuff as both negatively affect young minds and, in turn, the society as well. People have a tendency to follow what appears on electronic media. Asked about any regrets in life Dr Jiwalai said, “Many times got disappointed when I saw higher authorities did not accept some of my observations and later on it was proved that I was correct. What next? when asked, came the reply: “Might be writing a book”.

– Bal Krishna,
[email protected]

“Maps can make a person more complete”
Dr Wicha Jiwalai, Chairman,
Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) discusses the status of GIS in Thailand in an exclusive interview with [email protected]

  • What are the basic ingredients we need to have growth of GIS in Thailand in particular and South East Asia in general?
    There is a wide difference between developing and developed countries. The difference will become wider if we don’t have proper information base. Topographic map is the base on which information is to be created. GIS needs these basic information. We cannot put everything on computer. With this technology we can analyse data in a useful, appropriate and efficient manner. However, much depends upon the vision of top administration. Data and information are not considered crucial by many top policy makers. That is wrong. A good GIS has to come from a good vision from administration. There is a need to understand the importance of map. A map itself can make people more complete as it is a tool for knowing an area with reasoning and, moreover, to use a map properly one needs imagination.
  • How comfortable you are with the present status of GIS in Thailand?
    There is considerable level of awareness regarding GIS in the country although real applications are yet to come. There is a need to give more attention to the development of National GIS at two different levels; one: at Natural Resource and Natural Hazard Management and the other at City Planning and Community Development. Internet has made GIS very popular. Now many organisations are trying to install computers and GIS.

    The problem in Thailand is that mapping information are classified and are meant for military and civil servants only. These restrictions lead to duplicacy of works which adds to avoidable cost, time and efforts. We need to have a system where more and more people have to access data for developmental purposes and this will enable government able to avoid overlapping and duplicity of work related to data generation. These data needs to be allowed to be used for developmental purposes. In developed countries such information are not that much restricted. These information are either in public domain as in US and Australia or one can buy them as in UK. If we mix security issues with development, we will lag behind. In addition, we need to have a national body to have a definite plan for execution and availability of high-resolution satellite imageries. Unless government administration understands this and allocates budget, it will be difficult. There is also a need to pay attention to the standards of datasets and better communication among various stakeholders.

  • What do you think is the role of non-government and private sector for the growth of GIS, if any?
    In government, people are more trained as administrators and they are being transferred and promoted whereas in private sector there are people who are using the technology in much more career perspective and moreover they have the abilities too. Given this perspective, I feel, private sector can play a role to speed up the implementation if we make private sector strong. Government sector is the main user whereas the private sector should support the maintenance.
  • How conductive are the government policies for the growth of private sector in GIS?
    A much more conductive atmosphere now exists as security restrictions have been more relaxed. They can use available data and satellite imageries are not classified. Now we can also see the strong presence of a few dealers such as ESRI, Intergraph, Space Imaging, MapInfo, etc.
  • How rich Thailand is in terms of spatial data? Are these data in a paper format or digital and what is the scale and whether these data are available?
    Now there are efforts to release digital maps of 1:50,000 scale. The Royal Thai Survey and Cadastral Departments are incorporating GIS technology in their systems. With the implementation of City Planning and Provincial Planning, one can see thousands of city-plans and more and more maps than we used to see a few years ago. However, we need 1:4000 maps for city planning and even of higher scale and accuracy if they are to be used for utility planning as well. At present, the digital map of major part of the country is available at 1:50,000 and some at 1:20,000 scale. Bangkok and vicinity have 1:4,000. Land use planning and environmental assesment have used GIS. Utilities have good GIS system of BMR.
  • What is the status of GIS education in Thailand?
    The status of GIS education is improving. In the past mapping was more classified. Surveying and Mapping were not very popular. For civilian use only small scale maps were available. Geographer and engineers need large-scale maps. There were not many professionals. Now we find more graduates in the field of geodesy, surveying and geography. However, there is a tendency to overlook the actual concepts of position and accuracy. Now more people are aware of this and good efforts are being put into setting standards for positional accuracy.
  • Now the term e-government is in vogue. What role GIS can play to make this concept more effective?
    Many basic information can easily be released in GIS system in a standardised manner. This will surely give a boost to the concept of e-government. However, it depends upon the government which information it would like to share. The approach should be to release all data unless you see there are problems in specific data. The combination of GIS and Internet, e-government and e-commerce is not far away. Look at Singapore which is heading more towards a paperless administration.
  • What should be done to boost GIS and remote sensing sector in Thailand? And what role GISTDA can play in that?
    GISTDA is developing a Master Plan for Thailand in association with the Chulalongkorn University. It is expected to be completed by March 2003. The plan needs to be approved by the cabinet. We need to have some plans to follow. And if that happens, that will be a breakthrough.