Parks Department chief probed for 'funds misuse'

Parks Department chief probed for 'funds misuse'

National Parks head Thanya Nethithammakul faces accusations concerning a 108-million baht reforestation project. (File photo by Somchai Poomlard)
National Parks head Thanya Nethithammakul faces accusations concerning a 108-million baht reforestation project. (File photo by Somchai Poomlard)

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry is investigating a complaint against the chief of Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) for alleged malfeasance over his handling of public funds back in 2010.

Wicharn Simachaya, the ministry's permanent secretary, said a preliminary inquiry has been ordered against DNP director-general Thanya Nethithammakul who stands accused of mishandling the Forestry Department's budget worth about 108 million baht.

The alleged malfeasance took place in August 2010 when Mr Thanya served as the director of the reforestation office under the Forestry Department during the 2010 fiscal year, according to Mr Wicharn.

Based on the complaint received by the permanent secretary's office, Mr Thanya asked the Forestry Department to allocate the surplus money of 108 million baht for use to implement a seedling and reforestation project. The money was originally designated for the central administrative office, and Mr Thanya's decision to spend it on the sapling project raised questions if he was authorized to.

Under the scheme, about 53 million seedlings of various trees including Takhian, Sadao, and Yang Na would be prepared and distributed to the public in September the same year. This meant the reforestation office had one month to acquire the seedlings.

However, it was alleged that seedlings could not be prepared within one month and that no seedlings were distributed as claimed. Fund embezzlement was also suspected.

According to Mr Wicharn, the allegations arose because seedlings were usually prepared during the dry season, during March to April, to avoid moist which could damage young roots.

Moreover, several types of seeds specified in the seedling and reforestation project were unlikely to be acquired during the period. They would be ready for use in the dry season only.

Mr Wicharn said he has assigned Sutthilak Rawiwan, acting director-general of the Forestry Department, to examine the seedling lists, distribution and disbursement of funds to determine if there are grounds in the allegations.

Meanwhile, Mr Thanya defended himself Sunday, saying the seedling project was in line with the policy of the then government which wanted to promote reforestation.

He said there were a few offices which sought the fund from the Forestry Department to implement sapling and reforestation schemes.

He also insisted that as the office director he was authorised to request the surplus fund and use it to implement the sapling scheme.

According to Mr Thanya, whether those saplings would survive and grow into trees would depend on those who received and tended to them. The investigation against Mr Thanya is said to be in line with the cabinet resolution on March 27 this year that requires the ministries to conduct a fact-finding into allegations within 7 days.

If there are grounds in the allegations, a disciplinary probe or a criminal investigation should be launched and completed within 30 days. Those under investigation can be transferred to facilitate the probe.

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