Net widens in probe of ThaiHealth

Net widens in probe of ThaiHealth

Recipients of funding now under scrutiny

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya says there is strong evidence that the Thai Health Promotion Foundation has
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya says there is strong evidence that the Thai Health Promotion Foundation has "misspent" its government-provided budget, and has ordered further investigations and grilling of ThaiHealth executives. (File Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

Authorities have vowed to investigate the recipients of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation's (ThaiHealth) funding after checks found the foundation's budget had been misspent.

The findings were based on scrutiny by the monitoring and auditing committee on fiscal expenditure and the Office of the Auditor-General, Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya said after a meeting of the National Anti-Corruption Operation Centre on Monday.

Representatives from the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Anti-Corruption Commission also attended the meeting.

Gen Paiboon said someone must be held responsible for ThaiHealth's misspending, adding that the organisation's regulations must be amended. 

Next week, ThaiHealth executives will be called in to explain why money was misspent on projects, the minister said. If the executives are found to have committed any wrongdoing, an investigation will be launched to assess if malfeasance was involved, he said. 

Gen Paiboon said that every company and person financially supported by ThaiHealth will also be checked out to find out if their spending was in line with their proposed objectives. 

However, the minister said ThaiHealth must be treated fairly. 

ThaiHealth has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing so far, he said. The scrutiny will focus on the organisation's steps in approving its project spending. 

Gen Paiboon said ThaiHealth's funding of the media will also be probed.

"The organisation must not be allowed to spend on anything it wants to because this is a matter of the national budget," according to Gen Paiboon.

Meanwhile, Pheu Thai Party legal expert, Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, submitted a petition to Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas Monday, calling for a probe into ThaiHealth's funding for Thai Press Development Foundation, which operates Isra News Centre.

According to sources, ThaiHealth spent about 96.5 million baht on the foundation's 14 projects between 2008 to 2015.

Mr Pisit said Mr Ruangkrai's petition and information provided would be beneficial to the investigation.

According to Mr Pisit, ThaiHealth has the authority to approve its own spending without being vetted either by the Bureau of the Budget or parliament.

This, therefore, led to errant spending, such as holding activities to honour important figures who are not related to health.

He said it may be the right time to revise regulations concerning ThaiHealth.

The recipients of ThaiHealth's funding should not be affected if their projects are related to health, he added.

Currently, ThaiHealth is directly funded by a 2% additional levy on top of the excise taxes, or "sin taxes", on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, or about three to four billion baht annually.

Mr Pisit said the probe into ThaiHealth's regulations will not affect the distribution of sin taxes because it is based on government policy.

He said sin taxes should go directly to the state budget, and then be allocated to the foundation, Mr Pisit said.

The scrutiny is not being carried out to help one organisation, but to ensure money is allocated properly, according to the auditor-general. 

ThaiHealth's manager Krissada Ruang-areerat stepped down last week, a move he said was intended to pave the way for an investigation into the foundation's alleged misspending. 

The National Council for Peace and Order's audit panel earlier reported about 40% of the foundation's funds went towards financing political reform projects, election procedures and assessing the Thai political landscape, which were not related to health.

ThaiHealth deputy manager Supreeda Adulyanon said the organisation's board, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Narong Pipatanasai, had appointed him to become the acting chief of the foundation. He refused to comment about the details of the probe, saying the process is ongoing. 

Meanwhile, a National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) academic praised the authorities' investigation of ThaiHealth. Arnond Sakworawich of Nida's Insurance Actuarial Science and Risk Management said many people are unsure of the foundation's role and its budget of four billion baht from sin tax was unrivalled. "It is now time for reforms, not only of ThaiHealth, but also other independent agencies," Mr Arnond said. 

He suggested three acts be introduced to regulate independent agencies, covering their budget, audits of their balance sheets and their procurements.

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