GPO quizzed on imports, vaccine plant

national April 23, 2013 00:00

By Pongphon Sarnsamak
The Nation

2,514 Viewed

Irregularities alleged in purchases; but organisation chief says he's ill.

The Department of Special Investigation ( DSI ) yesterday asked the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation to testify about alleged irregularities in the purchase and procurement of imported raw materials to make paracetamol tablets.

It also has questions about the GPO’s construction of a Bt1.4-billion influenza-vaccine plant in Saraburi’s Tab Khawang district.

The national investigative agency has invited the GPO’s managing director, Dr Witit Artavatkun, to give more evidence and explain the purchasing and procurement process for importing raw materials from a China-based company that produces the painkiller paracetamol.

However, Witit yesterday had his lawyer forward a letter to the DSI. He claimed he had to postpone a meeting with the DSI indefinitely, as he had suddenly taken ill.

Today, Dr Wichai Chokewiwat, a former chairman of the GPO board, will explain to the DSI about the vaccine plant and the procurement process.

“The GPO has imported a large amount of raw materials to make the painkiller – but what for?” Tanin Prempree, director of the DSI’s corruption prevention and suppression centre, who is overseeing the case, said.

The DSI also asked Witit to explain the reason behind the delay and alleged irregular bidding process for the Government Phar-maceutical Organisation’s (GPO) influenza vaccine plant, under construction in Saraburi province.

“The GPO must give us a clear explanation why it has to extend the period of construction and the procurement process of this project,” he said.

The Bt1.4-billion influ-enza vaccine plant, aimed at producing up to 100 million doses in case of a pandemic, was given the green-light by Surayud Chulanont’s government in 2008. Construction of the plant began the following year and was meant to be completed by 2011, but the deadline was extended by two years.

The DSI is now requesting three national agencies – the Defence Pharmaceutical Factory, the Department of Medical Science, and the Food and Drug Administration – send results of a raw material test to determine whether it had been tainted or not.

The random test result is expected to be sent to DSI this week.

According to the DSI, the GPO has imported 148 tonnes of raw material since 2011 and 2012. But this raw material is due to expire in 2014 and 2015.

The DSI yesterday examined storage of the materials at Bangkok’s Chaeng Wattana and in facilities owned by the Thailand Post Office.

“There was no disappearance of raw material. All 100 tonnes were kept well in this storage building,” Tanin said.

However, on the same day, Tanin immediately went to the Public Health Ministry to meet Minister Dr Pradit Sinthawanarong who wanted more evidence related to the GPO’s purchasing and procurement. GPO’s deputy managing director Soontorn Vorakul has refused to give any details of the DSI’s examination of the raw material’s storage.