Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha denied embezzling any money after a Pheu Thai MP questioned a B2 billion discrepancy between approved budgets and the paid prices for five batches of the Sinovac vaccine Thailand bought.
He was responding to accusations made yesterday (Aug 31) on the first day of the four-day no-confidence debate.
As for an accusation that the PM had paid money to further his political career, Prayut said the opposition knew only too well that he had never done what was alleged, adding that the entire state budget the government has recently spent mostly went to funding the fight against COVID-19 and easing its impact on the country and the people.
He challenged the opposition to find out who had taken the alleged “change” from the government’s purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, saying his government is ready for any investigations into the allegation.
“I only use my salary. I have no children who run a business. I pray every day, so I would never resort to doing anything immoral. And I insist that this government performs its duties honestly,” Prayut said.
And in response to an allegation that the government has opted for deficit budgetary planning while achieving nothing in particular, Prayut said Thailand’s financial and budgetary status was only recently certified by the World Bank as very strong.
At press time yesterday, his deputy and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul had not taken the stage to counter the vaccine procurement allegations.
The prime minister reacted to allegations of corruption in COVID-19 vaccine procurement made by Prasert Chantararuangthong, a Pheu Thai Party MP for Nakhon Ratchasima and the party’s secretary-general.
Mr Prasert said that instead of procuring the COVID-19 vaccine under the usual public procurement law, Prayut had declared a state of emergency to allow the purchase of the Sinovac vaccines.
And while initially aimed to be only 10% of the entire supply of COVID-19 vaccines, more doses of Sinovac were imported than AstraZeneca, which was supposed to be the main vaccine source, the opposition MP said.
The chargé d’affaires at the Chinese embassy, Yang Xin, once stated that Thailand was the first nation to import COVID-19 vaccines from Sino Biopharmaceutical Limited for commercial purposes, he said.
He also claimed that the Chinese company, listed on Hong Kong’s stock exchange, is known to have close ties with a tycoon in Thailand who has close connections with the Thai government.
“Although the Chinese company doesn’t have any official sales representatives in Thailand, there certainly are some brokers who pocketed the change from the vaccine deal. As a result, Thai people are using low-quality vaccines at a high price,” said Mr Prasert.
Comparing the prices, Thailand paid for 2 million doses of Sinovac as of Jan 5 against the prices paid by other countries, he said.
Thailand actually paid B556 million, while Indonesia and Brazil paid only B460mn and B337mn respectively.
“Gen Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul have conspired together to purchase the Sinovac vaccine on various occasions,” he said.
On July 6, 10.9mn doses of the vaccine were purchased at a cost of B6bn, he said.
Later on five occasions, the cabinet approved a total budget of B10.8bn to fund the Sinovac vaccine purchases, while the actual sum paid was only B8.7bn, according to Mr Prasert.
“This means about B2bn is missing. Where is it now? Who has taken it?” asked Mr Prasert.
Dr Witoon Danwibul, director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, offered an explanation as to why the cabinet had to approve larger sums of budget than the amount actually paid for the Sinovac vaccines in previous purchases.
He said that because the prices of the vaccine and the currency exchange rates change constantly, a higher budget is needed ahead of the purchases, while the allotted budget is in reality disbursed equally to the actual spending, he said.
“There was no change… And no one has taken the rest of the money,” he said.