Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai yesterday removed a health official who revealed the connection between a senior health official and a politician over medical equipment procurement irregularities under the Thai Khemkhaeng budget.
"We will move those health officials from their positions immediately if we find they are causing difficulties for the investigation," he said.
Dr Suchart Laoboripat, director of the Regional Public Health Administration Bureau who is also responsible for listing the medical equipment purchases, told the lower House committee that the senior health officer, a former high level health officer, and politicians were involved in the irregularities.
"Everything I said was the truth but there was not take a brave person to tell it," he said after he was ordered by the minister to give up his post.
Witthaya said the Public Health Ministry's permanent secretary Dr Paijit Warachit reported that a probe conducted by a fact-finding panel led by Dr Seri Hongyok found only senior health officers involved in the scandal - no politicians were named.
But Witthaya accepted yesterday that politicians were involved in irregularities after seeing a summary of incidents recorded by Suchart and distributed to the media.
Suchart said an adviser to the minister and two former high-level health officials had ordered the purchase of 800 UV fan sanitisers under the Thai Khemkhaeng budget.
Suchart previously said he had had only three days to list all the items for purchase under the budget and there may have been errors on the list.
Before taking the position as head of the Regional Health Adminis-tration Bureau, Suchart resigned from the ministry and worked at a private firm in the Northeast. He was then reappointed by a former permanent secretary to the position as director.
Irregularities in the procurement plan were first raised by the Rural Doctors Society at a time when health officials' positions were shuffled. The society's action to examine the irregularities began when the list of candidates for a new permanent secretary appeared before the Public Health Minister and Cabinet for selection.
The candidates were two deputy permanent secretaries, Dr Paijit Warachit and Dr Chaktham Thammasak; the head of the Medical Service Department, Dr Rawat Witsaruthvej; Department of Health Service Support's Dr Somyot Deerasmi; and Department of Medical Science's director-general, Dr Manit Teeratantikanont.
Manit was a former deputy permanent secretary moved by Chaiya to head the Medical Science Department in 2008. He worked closely with then permanent secretary Dr Prat Boonya-wongvirot, and is on a panel probing a scandal over ambulance purchases. He is expected to release results of his investigation within 30 days.
The Cabinet appointed Paijit as the new permanent secretary.
Prat has also worked closely with the Rural Doctors Society in an observation trip sponsored by the society to England and Switzerland to study family medicine. He was also responsible for asking former Public Health Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung to give an allowance for rural doctors.
Recently, the Rural Doctors Society published a book called in Thai" Prat - a great friend for rural doctors" to commemorate Prat's retirement.
"Nothing was related to our relationship with Prat," said Dr Kriangsak Watcharanukulkiet, the society's chairperson. "We took our own stand. We were not led by anyone."
Kriangsak was invited to join the committee investigating the procurement process. He has asked Witthaya to get Dr Banlu Siripanich, former deputy permanent secretary, as part of a new independent probe team.
Banlu was a deputy permanent secretary who investigated the Bt 1.4-billion drug-procurement scandal, which ended with former minister Rakkiat Sukhana found guilty of corruption and given 15 years jail. Witthaya wants Banlu and former police chief General Pratin Santi-prabhob on the independent probe.Witthaya said he will ask Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to appoint these two as an independent committee authorised to summon officials and politicians involved in the scandal to provide testimony.
"I must identify who is behind the irregularities of procurement and order the health officials to [clean up] this scandal," he said.
Since the scandal of Thai Khemkhaeng budget under the Public Health Ministry has took place Abhisit likely protect Witthaya, who is one of "Gang of 4" which has influence to Abhisit's decision to set up cabinet, saying the government has seriously investigate the scandal and resolve the problem.
THE NATION / ASIA NEWS NETWORK