Govt operations to clean canals is money down the drain

Govt operations to clean canals is money down the drain

Special report: OAG urges probe into state efforts to clear waterways

Flashback: In October, 2016, agencies rushed to obey Prime Minister Prayut's order to clear the hyacinth, such as this operation on Klong Rangsit. But the attorney-general's office now says the operations were muddled and wasteful, with five departments at cross purposes. (Photo by Tanaphon Ongarttrakul)
Flashback: In October, 2016, agencies rushed to obey Prime Minister Prayut's order to clear the hyacinth, such as this operation on Klong Rangsit. But the attorney-general's office now says the operations were muddled and wasteful, with five departments at cross purposes. (Photo by Tanaphon Ongarttrakul)

The Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) has called on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to investigate efforts by state agencies to eradicate water weeds from canals after it was found their operations were not in line with their allocated budgets.

The office sent a letter to Gen Prayut on Oct 13, 2016, asking him to examine the operations by five state agencies which are responsible for removing water hyacinths from waterways.

The agencies were the Department of Marine (DM), the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning (DPWTCP), the Department of Royal Irrigation (DRI), the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR).

Included in the letter were recommendations by auditor-general Pisit Leelavachiropas on how to make the operations more cost effective and data collection methods more transparent.

Mr Pisit said an examination by the OAG found officials from various departments responsible for removing water weeds had conducted operations that were not worth the state budget allocated to them over the years.

Hoping to enhance river navigation and alleviate pollution, last year Gen Prayut ordered officials to clear water weeds from the canals and rivers, in particular the Chao Phraya River, which connects many provinces in the Central Plains.

The OAG wanted to study how the agencies had spent their budgets and the methods used to remove the weeds; so the agency asked the Bureau of the Budget (BB) to send it a breakdown of the government's budget allocations to those responsible, between 2012 and 2016.

According to the BB report, the five departments were responsible for the weeding operations.

Only two, the Department of Marine and the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning, submitted precise reports, providing information on how their budgets had been spent and the quantity of weeds extracted.

The Department of Royal Irrigation provided data between 2014 and 2016 only. During the period, the three departments spent a combined budget of around 834 million baht on the operations, claiming to have removed a combined total of 22.37 million tonnes of water weeds, he added.

The BMA and the Department of Water Resources, using different data collection methods, failed to separate their weeding operations from other similar tasks and provide clear, distinguishable results.

According to the BB report, the Department of Water Resources received from the government around 15 million baht in 2014 to spend on clearing weeds from the canals; it failed to provide clear results.

During the initial examination, the OAG also found each department failed to work as a team even though they were assigned to carry out the same jobs, he said.

Each department separately put forward a budget proposal to the government for the same task, which was considered "a waste of money", Mr Pisit said.

In particular, the BMA failed to submit a clear report that included how much it had spent on the operations, making it difficult for the OAG to analyse its work, he added.

On top of that, each department was using different methods to calculate the amount of work carried out by each labourer, Mr Pisit said.

The OAG recommended the government ask agencies to devise a single set of standards by which data collection methods for the operation can be compared and measured.

Each department should also strictly follow guidelines and work together to increase efficiency and save money for the sake of the taxpayer.

Mr Pisit also suggested the budget should be allocated based on the expenses incurred in the weeding process to make operations cost effective, rather than offering arbitrary budgets.

Letting a department submit a budget proposal to the government has proven to be a waste of money, he said.

The Secretariat of the Prime Minister responded to the OAG's calls by sending it a letter on Nov 4, 2016, Mr Pisit said.

In the letter, Gen Prayut put forward the issues for acknowledgement to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who also serves as Interior Minister, and to Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong, who oversees the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and to Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who oversees the Ministry of Transport.

Gen Prayut also ordered the agencies to respond to recommendations made by the OAG.

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