PM gets tough on embezzlers
37 welfare centres put under the microscope
Anyone found guilty of being involved in embezzling state funds earmarked for the underprivileged will be prosecuted, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said.
The prime minister on Tuesday addressed the issue as the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) zeroes in on 37, out of 70, welfare centres across the country suspected of embezzlement.
The move came after the Khon Kaen Protection for the Destitute, an agency that helps the underprivileged and HIV patients under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, was accused of misappropriating state funds.
Gen Prayut said the ministry had informed him that a probe has been launched to pinpoint the perpetrators. He said he had instructed the ministry to take legal and disciplinary action against those found guilty, particularly state officials.
"This problem must be solved. I never thought they would dare to do this. If there is evidence against anyone, whoever they are, they must face disciplinary action," Gen Prayut said.
Pol Gen Jarumporn Suramanee, a PACC board member, said yesterday the board had agreed to establish a subcommittee to look into irregularities in fund spending at the welfare centre in Chiang Mai. An initial probe found two civil servants and three state employees were involved in the fraud.
PACC deputy secretary-general Korntip Daroj previously said that the 37 welfare centres will be subject to urgent scrutiny over the next three months. Officials from PACC offices across the country will be deployed for the inspections, he said.
After the investigations are complete, measures will be drawn up to prevent further state funds failing to reach those it is meant for, Lt Col Korntip said.
The scandal came to light after Panida Yotpanya, 22, a social science student at Maha Sarakham University, and three friends lodged a complaint with the National Council for Peace and Order after interning at the Khon Kaen centre.
The students, who attended job training there last year, said they were ordered by the centre director Phuangphayom Chitkhom and other senior officials to fill in forms and sign receipts in the names of 2,000 villagers worth nearly 7 million baht.
The PACC's initial probe found there were sufficient grounds to set up a full investigation. Five other state officials at the Khon Kaen centre were also implicated in the scandal.
They have been accused of embezzling state funds, dereliction of duty, falsifying documents and certifying counterfeit documents in violation of the Criminal Code.
The source said the university students will be treated as witnesses.
Referring to the investigation into the case, Thongsuk Na Pol, an investigator attached to the Office of Anti-Corruption in Public Sector Area 4, said yesterday that his team will question the villagers in Khon Kaen whose names appeared on the receipts obtained by the PACC.
Mr Thongsuk previously said the probe found that many of those eligible for a 2,000-baht welfare payment from the centre had received nothing.
Additionally, many of those expecting a 3,000-baht grant to start their own businesses had also not received the full payment, he said.