Quarantine gets a bad rep
It is encouraging to see the government and the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) act swiftly against reports of alleged extortion that unnamed state officials demanded "commissions" from Pattaya-based hoteliers who agreed to turn their premises into state quarantine facilities.
Defence Ministry spokesman Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich told local media yesterday Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is also the head of CCSA, ordered an investigation into complaints by the hoteliers and representatives of tourism and hotel associations in the eastern region.
As the government has decided to quarantine all Thais returning from abroad -- numbering several thousand -- it needs large facilities to cope, in addition to the navy-owned Sattahip centre. This is where private hotels come in. Initially, it was projected as a win-win option, since hotel operators have the space the government needs to quarantine returnees, and the operators in turn need to survive during the coronavirus crisis.
It was reported that the government is offering to pay 1,000 baht per head each day to hotels which have agreed to join the state quarantine programme. The amount is supposed to cover room and board for each returnee -- who is obliged to spend 14 days in the facility -- and the CCSA is said to be looking for more than 10,000 rooms across Pattaya and Chon Buri.
Early last month, the government introduced the so-called mandatory "state quarantine" and "local quarantine", in its effort to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission from Thai returnees, complete with guidelines from the Public Health Ministry. This was meant to avoid violations of quarantine rules, as previously committed by numerous Thai migrant workers returning from South Korea.
In principle, the state quarantine centres are under the Defence Ministry's jurisdiction, while the local centres are under the Interior Ministry and local administration agencies. There are teams screening prospective hotels, supposedly ensuring that they meet all the requirements.
However, several hoteliers said they were contacted by people claiming to be the officials, who said if they gave them 40% of the amount to be paid by the state, their chances of being chosen as a state-designated quarantine centre would be secure.
Most hoteliers ignored the demand, saying the amount on offer by the state is a cut-throat rate. They did not name the officials, but dropped strong hints that they were from the government.
Previously, CCSA spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin ruled out the possibility of a scam. But in yesterday's press briefing, Lt Gen Kongcheep conceded that there is indeed an extortion racket as the hoteliers claimed -- but he dismissed speculation that "men in green" have a hand in it.
At the same time, the defence spokesman claimed he had got hold of a list of names of the extortionists and is now in the process of expanding the investigation. He also urged anyone with evidence to come forward.
Indeed, the Defence Ministry, the government and Gen Prayut in particular, should ensure that the probe is fair and transparent with the participation of neutral parties in the investigative panel. The panel must be able to work independently, while neutral committee members should guarantee there is no foul play or favours granted.
Those involved in the scam deserve heavy penalties.
While waiting for the investigation, the CCSA should reveal its budget spending details to the public, so scrutiny here is possible too.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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