Uttama sorry for bad mask export figures

Uttama sorry for bad mask export figures

Customs Dept told to rectify false info

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, wearing a mask, stands for a thermal scan at Rajavithi Hospital. The premier visited the hospital on Thursday to inspect the health screening process and to give the medical staff some moral support. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, wearing a mask, stands for a thermal scan at Rajavithi Hospital. The premier visited the hospital on Thursday to inspect the health screening process and to give the medical staff some moral support. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana apologised over erroneous information by the Customs Department regarding face mask exports and has asked the agency to rectify the matter.

His apology came after the Department of Internal Trade (DIT) filed a complaint with the Technology Crime Suppression Division against Customs Department spokesman Chaiyut Khamkhun for defamation on Thursday.

The DIT accused the spokesman of divulging false information to the public on Wednesday stating that the DIT had authorised the export of 330 tonnes of face masks worth 160 million baht in January and February when the items were in short supply and declared controlled products.

DIT director-general Whichai Phochanakij said on Thursday that he had no idea where Mr Chaiyut obtained the figures as the DIT, which comes under the Commerce Ministry, has strictly banned the export of masks.

Sometime after Mr Chaiyut issued the statement, the Customs Department issued a press release clarifying that the 330 tonnes of exports were not exclusively face masks. In fact, the exports in question included other products as well such as seat covers, shoelaces, and aprons.

The press release also said that the figure referred to the export of items from January until Feb 4, one day before face masks were declared controlled goods by the Commerce Ministry. The declaration placed masks under tight trade and export restrictions in a bid to stave off shortages.

Mr Whichai said since Feb 5, manufacturers have requested special permission to export 53 million masks, 41 million of which have been barred from being sent overseas.

A total of 12 million masks were given clearance because they were not designed for prevention of Covid-19 transmission or copyrighted. Moreover, the manufacturers would be sued if the masks did not reach customers.

"It's above board every step of the way. We have a committee to verify it," he said, adding that factories have ramped up production capacity, which will lift the number of masks produced per day from 1.2 million to at least 1.4 million within this week.

Meanwhile, Mr Uttama said he also told the Customs Department, which is supervised by the Finance Ministry, to fix the issue and communicate correct information.

The finance minister also said this was not a major issue as it can be resolved amicably.

Also on Thursday, state-run hospitals, which have been hit by a severe shortage of face masks, received 1.4 million masks from the Commerce Ministry between March 6-11.


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