Quarantine hotels graft probe begins
The Defence Ministry is tracking down a group of people accused of demanding kickbacks from hoteliers to guarantee that their establishments would be chosen as quarantine centres.
Defence spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said yesterday the claims made by the hotel operators have grounds and authorities have sufficient leads to begin their investigation.
"It's true. I talked to the association of hoteliers in the eastern region and they insisted they had been approached by 'brokers' who asked for commission fees. There are several of them, and we have their names," said Lt Gen Kongcheep.
But he said no military officers or those from the Public Health Ministry are involved in the alleged racket, vowing to take tough action if shown otherwise.
"No military offices are involved. If anyone has information about [the involvement] of armed forces or public health personnel, they can submit it to us and we will launch both disciplinary and criminal investigations," he said.
Lt Gen Kongcheep said the racket had caused damage to both the people and the state, adding it could compromise service standards for those put under quarantine.
According to Thai media reports, several suspects approached hotel operators in Pattaya, offering to ensure their properties would be chosen as state quarantine facilities if they were paid up to 40% of what the hotels received from the government.
Under the current scheme, the government pays participating hotels 1,000 baht per person per day for hosting those undergoing the 14-day quarantine.
The Defence Ministry and the Public Health Ministry have been jointly running state quarantine facilities to accommodate Thai people returning from abroad since February.
To date, some 80,000 Thai returnees have been placed in quarantine facilities nationwide as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul yesterday vowed to take action against the wrongdoers, saying the prime minister would not tolerate misconduct. He also urged business operators who exposed the racket to provide more information to advance the investigation.
"We want to know who dared take advantage of people during this difficult time," said Mr Anutin.
Activist Srisuwan Janya yesterday called for an independent inquiry panel, saying local officials should be kept away from the investigation to ensure transparency.
"This is not a groundless [report] because it was revealed by the hotel operators. It is unacceptable to appoint local officials to investigate the racket as the number benefiting from it is very large," said Mr Srisuwan.
He also expressed suspicions that the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) had so quickly denied involvement by state authorities in the illicit scheme.
Mr Srisuwan said he had also lodged a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman so that an independent body could probe the matter.
He said he wanted the prime minister to take legal action against those who had demanded kickbacks from hotel operators.
In related news, Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman of the CCSA, said the administration has doubled the daily Thai returnee quota to 400.
He added that from today until June 1 there are 23 flights scheduled to bring Thai returnees home.
Meanwhile, Lt Gen Kongcheep said the prime minister has asked hotel operators to consider investing in new tourism models that focus on safety and hygiene once the country is reopened to tourists.