Probe into pilfered fund for disabled

Probe into pilfered fund for disabled

Activists claim up to B1.5bn a year stolen

The purpose of the
The purpose of the "Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act" is to help disabled people find meaningful jobs, but it is being embezzled at an eye-watering rate. (Photo courtesy Microsoft)

Labour Minister Adul Sangsingkeo is looking into alleged irregularities in the spending of state funds granted to an employment promotion programme for people with disabilities that caused losses of up to 1.5 billion baht a year.

The minister said he had been alerted to the alleged abuse of the scheme. It was launched in 2009 to promote career opportunities for the disabled.

He said he has assigned the deputy permanent secretary for labour to lead a panel. It has 15 days to wrap up its work.

The probe was launched after a network that fights to protect the rights of disabled people lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission over alleged violations of the Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act (English version, PDF format).yest

According to the network, the fund was supposed to have been used to organise job training.

However, more money was allegedly disbursed than there were people who attended.

It suspected some people's identities had been falsely used to apply for the training without their knowledge.

The network's chairman, Prida Limnonthakun, said this had cost the state up to 1.5 billion baht a year.

The network has also asked the Department of Special Investigation to probe the matter and requested a witness protection programme be established for whistleblowers.

"There are less than 50 complainants because most disabled people are afraid to come forward, and they are not fully aware of their rights," Mr Prida said.

Citing an initial check, he said the scandal appeared to involve a number of state officials.

The law states that every company must hire at least one disabled person for every 100 workers.

If any firm is unable to do this, it must make a financial contribution to the fund to help develop the quality of life of people living with physical or mental handicaps.

Alternatively, the firms can give help in other ways, such as by providing job training or setting up disabled-friendly facilities.

This year, 14,623 companies have each contributed 109,500 baht to the fund on average, Pol Gen Adul said.

But he insisted the Labour Ministry had no role in managing the fund.

According to the network, there are about 1 million disabled people in Thailand, 65,000 of whom have expressed an interest in finding work and had their names registered with the government for job training programmes.

About 25,000 of them were recruited by companies, Mr Prida said.

The network said mafia figures had managed to infiltrate the programmes and drawn sums of money from such schemes without participating in the training.

Anantaporn Kanjanarat, the social development and human security minister, said earlier he doubted the irregularities could be attributed to graft as the people hired to conduct the training were mostly private individuals.

Gen Anantaporn said the Labour Ministry oversees the occupational training but the private sector had been contracted to organise it.

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