Auditor General's Office says regulations not strict enough to prevent conflict of interest
REPRESENTATIVES of the embattled ThaiHealth Promotion Foundation will today testify before the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission at Government House on issues relating to the foundation’s transparency and objectives as well as allegations of conflicts of interest.
National Legislative Assembly member Dr Jetn Sirathranont said ThaiHealth could only become a better-run organisation by using the regular fiscal budget system rather than enjoying “sin” tax revenue collected from tobacco products and alcoholic beverages.
However, Worawan Chandoewit, a Thailand Development Research Institute researcher, said some of ThaiHealth-sponsored projects had generated a good return on investment in terms of public health and social benefits that probably would not have been achieved using the regular budget system.
The Office of the Auditor General reported that ThaiHealth’s regulations were not stringent enough, resulting in an increased risk of conflict of interests.
It also found that the terms of office for ThaiHealth executives were not in line with government procedures and the funding of some projects was irrelevant to the organisation’s objectives.
ThaiHealth was ordered by PACC to clarify these issues and answer questions concerning projects sponsored by it such as the Bt33.45 million budget used to sponsor the cross-New Year’s praying ceremony and the Bt3.84 million sponsorship of personnel to work at the World Health Organisation and of some mass media subsidy schemes.
The conflicts of interest allegations relate to ThaiHealth executives setting up separate foundations and applying for funding from ThaiHealth.
NLA member Dr Jetn pointed out that these issues had materialised because the use of public funds was not properly checked.
Jetn said ThaiHealth had received its special tax revenue without going through the official budget allocation measures used by the Comptroller General’s Department.
“I don’t think ThaiHealth should be funded directly from earmarked tax, as the results show that the |number of people who drink alcohol and smoke has not decreased,” he said.
ThaiHealth is one of the three organisations in Thailand supported by earmarked tax revenue from alcohol and tobacco products. But ThaiHealth receives an extra 2 per cent in revenue from the excise tax every year without a funding cap.
“ThaiHealth should follow the regular budget procedures to increase its efficiency and transparency,” Jetn said.
Arnond Sakworawich, a National Institute of Development Administration lecturer, agreed – saying ThaiHealth’s inefficiency and lack of transparency were major problems.
“ThaiHealth is very independent and can issue its own regulations, many of which are loose,” Arnond said.
He suggested that the definition of ”promoting health” by ThaiHealth has been broadened to cover far more than the original objectives of the organisation, which let ThaiHealth fund projects not directly related to health such as the annual cross-New Year chanting and some political-related projects.
Jetn said the ThaiHealth Act’s definition should be narrowed to make its tasks more specific to health promotion.
However, Worawan of the TDRI said ThaiHealth’s broad perspective of health included a social perspective because healthcare policy was another kind of social policy.
Worawan found that many ThaiHealth-sponsored projects had a very worthy return for society such as its youth programmes.
For these programmes, research shows that every Bt1 spent had a Bt7 return for society, Worawan said.
These programmes did not only encourage good health behaviour but also promoted overall social factors beneficial for physical and mental health, she said.
“This should be a good example of health promotion according to ThaiHealth’s law. It was not an abstract idea, as it can measure the worthy results of the projects,” she said.
“It would be difficult to do such good work on ordinary governmental funding procedures because it usually doesn’t provide enough funds. It would be retrograde if we stop such a good-performance organisation working on a progressive mechanism,” she added.