Thai Public Health chief vows to fight abrupt transfer

He openly criticised Public Health Minister Prof Rajata Rajatanavin.

"I will definitely take actions to protect the dignity of my family and the dignity of permanent secretaries for Public Health," Narong said yesterday.

"Why should I face a probe? Why should a permanent secretary for Public Health be treated like this? Should a minister be allowed to appoint [and dislodge] a high-level government official at will?"

Narong was speaking to hundreds of his supporters at the Public Health Ministry.

Many covered their heads with black bags in protest against the transfer order. There has been at least one protest resignation, with a man working as an advisor to Rajata's deputy Somsak Chunharas standing down. In provinces, many medical workers showed up to work in black to express their opposition against Narong's order.

After Rajata ordered a probe into Narong over his perceived failure to respond to policies and what he described as a lack of unity among health agencies, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha transferred Narong out of the ministry pending the investigation.

Narong yesterday began his new position at the Office of the Prime Minister.

He said he respected Prayut's order but he was worried that someone who had never fought for the country would take over and damage Prayut's reputation.

"Someone who has never risked anything he has had. Someone who has just walked around will simply step in and run the country. I am worried about that," Narong said.

When the People's Democratic Reform Committee held massive rallies against the previous government, Narong was the only permanent secretary of a ministry to openly put pressure on the then-powers that be to step down.

In the wake of the serious political conflict last year, the military staged a coup and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) came to power.

The NCPO installed the current government, which is headed by Prayut - the NCPO chief.

Narong insisted that him fighting back did not constitute opposition against the Prayut-led government.

He said he would just urge Prayut to look into the healthcare sector and see what the root causes of the healthcare problems were.

In recent months, Narong has seriously clashed with the National Health Security Office (NHSO) over the management of the universal healthcare scheme, which covers 48 million Thais.

Narong has attacked the NHSO over what he claims is its inefficiency and lack of transparency.

Led by Narong, the Public Health Ministry tried to wrestle much of the management power for the scheme and its fund away from the NHSO. Rajata chairs the NHSO board.

"I am still the permanent secretary for Public Health. I will continue to push for healthcare reform," Narong said.

He said Rajata lacked leadership.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, Narong could return to the position if the investigation found he did nothing wrong.

Rajata, meanwhile, expressed hope that the work atmosphere would improve following Narong's transfer.

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