Corruption in government

27 09 2009

Here’s a case to watch. The Nation (28 September 2009: “Public health ministry to set up factfinding committee”) reports that the government’s much-heralded “Thai Khemkaeng” (Strengthening Thailand) project is in trouble. This is the government’s headline┬árecovery and stimulus program with almost 1.6 trillion baht to deliver, and with its very own website.

The Nation’s report states that Democrat Party Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai is about to launch an investigation into allegations of massive corruption said to be set to “siphon funds” from the] Bt9.3 bn scheme. As this comes several days after an earlier report of “possible” corruption, it seems that there must be sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation.

The allegations come from the Rural Doctors Foundation who are well-known and have considerable respect.

Witthaya reacted to the Foundation’s claim by promising an investigation: “The panel will be set up as soon as possible. I will invite Kriangsak Wacharanukulkiart, head of the Rural Doctors Society to join the panel because he is impartial and has a wide network of doctors in rural areas. He can help us find the truth from his network…”.

The Rural Doctors Society have been around for a while, having roots in the student movement of the 1970s and the post-CPT rural public health advocacy of the 1980s. It has been a politically-engaged NGO from the beginning, and was high-profile during the 1992 events, discussions about the 1997 Constitution and, while some members initially supported the Thai Rak Thai Party, it took to opposing Thaksin Shinawatra and some of its members took to the PAD stage.

Secretary-general of the Rural Doctors Foundation, Dr. Pongthep Wongwatcharapaibul “alleged that certain politicians had made preparations to buy unneeded equipment for public hospitals around the country at inflated prices.” He added, “This project lacked transparency from the beginning because hospitals were not asked what should or should not be procured and how much the items should be bought for.”

Pongthep called for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to appoint Dr. Banlu Siripanich, a former senior Public Health Ministry official, to investigate the alleged irregularities. Banlu “once headed a panel, which investigated alleged massive corruption of the procurements of the Public Health Ministry, resulting in the conviction of then public health minister Rakkiart Sukthana, who is now serving his jail term” (for some details, see here).

And, Pongthep seemed to point a finger at the Democrat Party when he said the “current case would be similar to the Rakkiart case except the public health minister is now a Democrat Party member. Rakkiart was then a minister in the Social Action Party.”

It seems unlikely that this case – with complaints from groups that should be Democrat Party allies – will be able to be kept quiet and out of the headlines, unlike the earlier case of corruption and nepotism in the Office for Sufficiency Economy Community Projects. That case seems to have all but disappeared now that it is run by palace cronies.

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