Obec boots out school chief over B400k bribe

Obec boots out school chief over B400k bribe

Case a 'lesson for all directors nationwide'

School director Viroj Samruan (inset) denied the obvious, but has been fired for demanding tea money to enrol students at the elite school. (File photos)
School director Viroj Samruan (inset) denied the obvious, but has been fired for demanding tea money to enrol students at the elite school. (File photos)

The Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) has fired former Samsenwittayalai School director Viroj Samruan for receiving "tea money" -- a local euphemism for a bribe -- from parents in exchange for enrolling their children in his institution last year.

The disciplinary committee has finished investigating the incident and finally ruled he was guilty.

The dismissal was announced Monday by Obec secretary-general Boonrak Yodpetch at a press conference held to update the progress being made on recent corruption cases inside the Education Ministry.

According to the panel, Mr Viroj was found to have accepted 400,000 baht from a parent to enrol his son at the school last year. The former director was also found to have ties to other bribery cases worth a total of up to 8 million baht.

"His guilt was obvious as he took the money but failed to put it in the school's coffers," Mr Boonrak said.

This incident came to light last June after a parent circulated a video clip showing Mr Viroj receiving the money, allegedly to accept a child into Mathayom 1.

Obec set up a committee to look into disciplinary action against him in July.

The committee then transferred Mr Viroj to work on a temporary basis at the Secondary Educational Service Area Office 1 to ensure the probe was conducted transparently.

"I think school directors nationwide should learn from this case and think about what will happen to them if they take bribes," Mr Boonrak said.

He said Obec has told schools under its supervision to follow correct enrolment procedures and make themselves accountable.

Obec is now working with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to monitor money transactions at state-run schools in order to prevent bribes for placements at highly sought after schools as secondary schools countrywide held entrance exams last weekend.

According to Obec's chief, even if parents and school directors consider the money to be "donations", the graft watchdog will maintain its cautious approach, casting doubt over possible bribery. If similar suspected cases occur, the schools will be subject to checks.

"If any irregularities are found, not only school directors will be held accountable but parents as well," Mr Boonrak said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin said he expected the initial probe into an embezzlement scandal involving the Sema Phatthana Chiwit Fund, another corruption case inside the ministry, to be concluded by Songkran or by the end of April at the latest.

Mr Teerakiat said Rojana Sinthi, the only known suspect, has not provided any leads to give up her conspirators.

About 50 education officials -- both active and retired -- will be asked to give statements to a fact-finding panel looking into the scandal involving almost 120 million baht, said Mr Teerakiat.

Atthapol Truektrong, chairman of the ministry's fact-finding panel, said those on the list include former education permanent secretaries and their deputies.

According to Mr Atthapol, the move is needed because the panel wants to gather all of the facts as it expands its investigation into the scandal.

He insisted no one at this stage has been accused of being involved in irregularities in the way the fund was managed. It was designed to support the education of girls from poor families.

"We'll send out letters to all of the officials who were involved since 2007. There are about 50 who we need to get information from and verify documents," he said.

He added the committee will pay random visits to schools and colleges that received financial support from the fund to get first-hand information about the projects.

Last week, Ms Rojana was sacked after she admitted to having a hand in stealing 88 million baht from the fund and then transferring the money to bank accounts of relatives and friends over the last decade.

"The committee recently found that Ms Rojana also transferred some of the money to her own account, a police officer's account and a temple's account, so we will trace the money trail for all of those," he said.

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