Govt frets over local jabs rush
Fearing a disorganised vaccine rollout by individual local administrative organisations (LAOs), the Interior Ministry has referred the issue to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), which some fear could prove a stumbling block in itself.
Many LAOs are rushing to place orders for the alternative Sinopharm vaccine supply being bought by the Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA) from China, however, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday voiced concern over whether they can afford it or are even legally entitled to spend their budgets on the purchase.
However, the premier insisted he had no objection to the LAOs buying the vaccine assuming any restrictions that bar them from appropriating funds to do so can be lifted.
"If they can undo this [restriction], by all means go ahead and do it," he said, adding relevant laws may need to be studied first.
"I don't want the issue to become politicised," Gen Prayut said.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is also the government's legal expert, insisted the LAOs must ask the Interior Ministry to work to remove the restriction. "Otherwise, the LAOs will be in trouble with the State Audit Office for wrongful utilisation of state funds," he said. However, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said entrusting the more than 7,000 individual LAOs nationwide to conduct the vaccine purchases on their own could be potentially chaotic.
Also, there are both richer and less well-off LAOs, a discrepancy which affects their ability to afford the purchase, said Gen Anupong. The CCSA should decide whether to let LAOs acquire the vaccine themselves or whether the state should procure it for them.
Mr Wissanu explained on Monday the LAOs are in no position to buy the vaccine directly from manufacturers because the companies will not sell to them.
However, the organisations can order from appointed representative agents of the respective vaccine producers. In the case of Sinopharm, the LAOs must contact the CRA.
"But the problem rests with how the organisation can get their hands on the money to buy the vaccine," he said.
Somsak Kittithornkul, president of the LAOs of Thailand, said the government should spell out clearly whether or not the LAOs are authorised to purchase the vaccine as well as consider supporting the purchases after many fell short of their tax revenue targets caused by the economic slowdown and exacerbated by the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.