Probe set for 'extravagant' decorations

Probe set for 'extravagant' decorations

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) and the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) are probing the Tourism and Sports Ministry's alleged misspending of 1.8 million baht for venue decorations for the prime minister's visit last Friday.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas confirmed Monday that the OAG was investigating allegations the ministry had spent 1.8 million baht on decorations for the meeting, presided by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

He said the OAG was investigating if the money was used to purchase extravagant decorations for the meeting simply to please Gen Prayut, as reported by the media, and if the spending represented irresponsible spending of the state budget.

A government spokesman earlier defended the spending, asking sarcastically if the government had to spend only on the rubber subsidy scheme for reporters to find it acceptable.

Mr Pisit said that, in his opinion, an event only lasting a few hours did not merit such an extravagant outlay. "This is not a wedding but a state meeting, hence the money should have been spent more wisely," he said.

The OAG will look for possible conflicts of interest as it probes the meeting spending. The investigation should take about a month, he added.

Pisit: Spending raises questions

The agency had heard someone had profited from subcontracting the decoration work for the meeting and the agency would find out whether any state officials had colluded with him, he said.

According to Mr Pisit, the decoration work was sub-contracted to Com Art Co, owned by performance director Supawat Jongsiri, also known as Supaksorn.

Prayong Preeyajit, secretary-general of the PACC, in his capacity as secretary of the Centre for National Anti-Corruption, said the PACC was investigating if the budget spending pointed to signs of corruption while the OAG was probing if the spending was a worthwhile use of state money in its preparations for the meeting.

Tourism and sports permanent secretary Pongpanu Svetarundra, meanwhile, said the event was intended to serve a dual function. The event was both a meeting of section heads and an event designed to promote tourism.

Although the company winning the contract to organise the meeting offered to do the job at a cost of 1.8 million baht, a price that did not exceed the reserve price, negotiations were conducted to convince the contractor to lower the price to 1.5 million baht, he said.

"I insist that every single baht spent under my supervision must be worth it, clean, clear and accountable," he added.

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