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Phuket Opinion: A corruption playground

PHUKET: It is difficult not to get one’s hopes up with the corruption probe into the money spent by Cherng Talay Municipality for its children’s playground. The case has all the hallmarks of a slam dunk, with more than B3.14 million spent on a handful of ‘bouncy rides’ and playground equipment. Yet, the people of Phuket just might get to see how ineffective the anti-corruption measures truly are.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 26 February 2023, 09:00AM

NACC Phuket officers inspect the children’s playground at Cherng Talay Municipality Sport Center. Photo: NACC Phuket

NACC Phuket officers inspect the children’s playground at Cherng Talay Municipality Sport Center. Photo: NACC Phuket

And this would be despite Cherng Talay Municipality Chief Administrative Officer (Palad) Samart Aisawan telling reporters that the issue was about B65,000 spent on each of six ‘spring rocker’ rides, totalling a neat B380,000 for the six swings.

No, it was about much more than that, and kudos to the Phuket branch of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for making the information public. Without NACC Phuket playing its role, no one would have known that Cherng Talay Municipality paid Genius Kids Co Ltd B1.193mn in 2014 to install the swings, then paid Genius Kids Co Ltd B1.95mn in 2015 to do the same job again.

Despite Mr Samart’s assurance that the project had been vetted and approved by the Office of the Auditor General, this alone is cause for further investigation. However, if Mr Samart’s claim that no government procurement rules had been broken and that all correct procedures had been followed proves true, NACC Phuket might be left with no option but to declare the case legal and proper.

In two previous recent high-profile cases, that is exactly what has happened. At the end of last month the “STRONG Anti-Corruption Thailand Club” called for an investigation into two projects that reeked of corruption: 1) a building at Phuket Rajabhat University, north of Phuket Town, that remains incomplete despite construction starting 10 years ago and B495 million already spent on the project; and 2) the B131mn building at the Phuket Check Point that was built to “facilitate tourists arriving on the island” but still remains empty.

Sincere questions could be asked about the expediency of NACC Phuket’s investigations into both projects, with one investigation completed within seven days of the complaint filed, and the second investigation completed just five days after that. However, NACC Phuket has been, up to a point, comprehensive about its findings.

The B131mn building at Phuket Check Point at Tha Chatchai, built to serve as the ‘Andaman Safety Center‘ to ‘facilitate tourists arriving on the island’, is now in the process of being handed back to the Treasury Department (the standard government department for legal possession of government properties that have not been assigned to specific departments to use) as the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO) is unable to pay even the utility bills for the building. The case has been declared ‘resolved’ despite the building standing empty and already showing signs of falling apart.

Pacific Prime Thailand

Meanwhile, the Rajabhat building also remains empty while the latest contractor, Hatyai Nanthakorn Co Ltd, waits for the university to finish deciding on its final plans for the building. That is after Sahayotha Architect Co Ltd was paid B200 million from 2013-2016 for ‘structural and architectural work’, followed by Forcon Co Ltd being paid B245.746mn from 2017-2020 for further ‘architectural work, systems and equipment items’.

Of note, Hatyai Nanthakorn Co Ltd was brought in only after Forcon Co Ltd entered business rehabilitation in November 2019, but has already been contracted for B68.45mn. All this is for what is ostensibly a seven-storey building. NACC Phuket has not yet finished its investigation into this case.

The obvious omission throughout all these cases is that while the focus is on due process and ensuring no anti-corruption rules have been broken, there has been no explanation for the exorbitantly high construction costs for the buildings. That part has been left undiscussed.

This is not to cast aspersions on NACC Phuket. They, themselves, are making all this information public. If no anti-corruption laws have been broken, there is nothing they can do – and that is where any claims of taking up the fight against corruption falls apart.

As long as the rules are followed, ‘players’ get to keep their ill-gotten gains and no one can do anything about it. That is the state of Thailand’s anti-corruption laws. As wonderfully highlighted by the latest case to come to public knowledge, Phuket has certainly become a ’corruption playground’.

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cheez | 26 February 2023 - 10:14:43

A most apt headline for a hold on that particular exceptional thing that their reputation precedes them.  Rather shameful.  Plenty of room for improvement.  Anyone or more in particular up for the challenge?

Fascinated | 26 February 2023 - 09:30:36

Follow the money- who owns Genius Kids? Nepotism rules. We all know the high profile Cherng talay 'politician' around that time- it comes as no surprise. He's very quiet these days though- reaping his rewards I guess.

JohnC | 26 February 2023 - 09:21:03

Good article PN. Not 'has become' a corruption playground. 'Has always been' is much more accurate. Nowadays it is just more noticable because almost every person in country has a camera in their hands and the ability to bring these things to public attention anonymously via social media without fearing for their lives....


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