Corruption cases swamp govt schemes for the poor

national March 27, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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SENIOR OFFICIAL SACKED BUT INVESTIGATORS SAY MULTIPLE SUSPECTS INVOLVED IN SYSTEMIC GRAFT



THE EDUCATION Ministry sacked a senior official yesterday and plans to claim compensation from everyone involved in irregular disbursements from its Educational Fund for Life Development between 2007 and 2018, after more than Bt100 million was found to have been illicitly diverted during the period. 

Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin said yesterday he had set up a committee to investigate officials involved. 

“Some officials shall be held accountable for breaches. Even if some officials were not engaged in corruption, they can be held responsible for negligence,” Teerakiat said. 

He added that he expected the committee to identify the amounts each involved official would have to pay back to the fund in compensation. 

A source, who asked to remain anonymous, said if they were convicted of breaches of duty, Finance Department officials could be held responsible for 60 per cent of damages while relevant supervisors and officials that had granted approval for the disbursements would probably be responsible for the remainder.

“Probably, the permanent secretary for education may have to pay 20 per cent of the damages,” the source said. 

Rojana Sintee, the C8-ranked official who was fired from the ministry yesterday, has claimed that she acted alone in embezzling money from the fund. 

Investigating authorities, however, have said they suspected many more officials were involved.

Established in 1999, the Educational Fund for Life Development had a start-up budget of more than Bt600 million with the founding objective to boost educational opportunities for underprivileged children.

Rojana was in charge of preparing a list of fund recipients, but she also included the bank accounts of her relatives and other people she knew. After disbursements were approved, as much as Bt118 million was transferred to 22 bank accounts.

All of the accounts were closed on February 22. 

Pol Lt-Colonel Siripong Sritula of the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) said inspections at Rojana’s house suggested she had not been the only one receiving ill-gotten gains from embezzled funds. 

“We will try to find out if an official more senior than [Rojana] was involved,” he said. 

In a related development, PACC assistant secretary-general Pol Lt-Colonel Wannop Somjintanakul said yesterday his agency had finished its preliminary investigation of 53 protection centres for the destitute and found suspicious practices at all of them. In the last fiscal year, they received Bt107 million.

There are 76 protection centres for the destitute in Thailand, all of which receive state budgets from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, which are meant to help underprivileged people in their respective areas. 

The PACC began investigating the centres after a university student, who was posted as a trainee at the Khon Kaen Protection Centre for the Destitute, alerted her university and authorities about irregularities. She said she had been instructed by centre officials to forge signatures on official forms. 

The investigation later revealed many eligible people had not received financial aid, although official records bearing forged signatures claimed they had been recipients.

The PACC has already detected irregularities at 53 centres, with the 23 other centres still being investigated. 

Wannop said recently alleged new irregularities had been confirmed at centres in Loei, Chon Buri, Phuket and Pattani provinces. 

The PACC has also investigated four self-help settlements on suspicion that they also might have been involved in corruption. 

Three of those cases have been or will be handed over to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) given suspicious practices appearing to implicate very senior officials. 

The PACC can investigate alleged wrongdoing by officials ranked up to the level of C7 only. Thailand’s bureaucratic system is ranked based on seniority from C1 to C11, and officials ranked C9 or higher are the responsibility of the NACC.

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