The Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), which is probing state welfare centres in many provinces for their roles in embezzling state assistance money intended for the poor, has uncovered various tactics some officials used to embezzle the government money.
PACC investigators have found several methods which the unscrupulous officials invented to steal the money. The methods may be different in how they were practised but all of them required tampering with official papers to enable them to siphon the money, according to PACC secretary-general Kornthip Daroj.
The fraud involved drawing up a list of phony recipients and producing photocopies of identity cards, sometimes of people who exist but who had no idea their names were being used to collect the welfare money, which never reached those in need of it.
The first case of embezzlement came to light in January. It was exposed by a group of Maha Sarakham University students. They were told to fill in forms and sign fake signatures on the receipts for 2,000 villagers, worth nearly B7mn, while they were working as interns at the Khon Kaen Protection for the Destitute Centre last year.
The students alleged that the centre chief Phuangphayom Chikhom and some senior officials had ordered them to do it.
The money was intended to be given to poor people, low-income earners and HIV/Aids patients in the province.
The PACC have met villagers in whose names the money was supposed to have been distributed.
The villagers said they received no, or only part of, the money.
The scandal prompted PACC investigators to launch large-scale probes, which cover centres in other provinces.
The commission is investigating the alleged irregularities in 27 provinces and is in the process of probing the scandal in Khon Kaen, Nong Khai, Bung Kan, Trat, Surat Thani, Chiang Mai and Nan, Lt Col Kornthip said.
In Nan, officials found the money was going to residents who are well-off.
According to an initial investigation, local officials asked villagers to give them photocopies of their identity cards for a check of people participating in a kathin robe-giving ceremony. But it turned out that the documents were used in a plot to withdraw money under the welfare programme.
“Some recipients were not qualified because they are financially secure,” said a PACC official who is in a probe team.
Village heads, kamnan and even their wives are among those who received financial assistance though they are not eligible, PACC member Gen Jaramporn Suramani said, referring to findings reported by probe teams in many provinces.
Some of the names and signatures of people who received the assistance money were fake.
According to the PACC, some officials “stole” the identities of people registered for some other welfare activities and used them to pick up the money. In this case, it was difficult for the ID owners to know about the theft of their personal data.
Details of the identities of people kept in the government’s civil database were printed out and fake signatures furnished on the printouts to certify “genuineness” of the documents.
The names of dead people were among the recipients of the assistance money, according to the PACC.
The commission added local state officials in the tambon administrative organisations and school administrators may also have colluded in the embezzlement. They helped supply the names of the needy people qualified to get the state money. However, they did not receive the full amount of money they were entitled to.
The involvement of other local state agencies made the welfare distribution process look credible.
The embezzlement involved conducting surveys of eligible welfare recipients. The surveys were supposed to have been made and the identity of the recipients verified. However, the PACC found the recipients who picked up the cheques did not exist in the civil registration database.
Some local residents who were qualified to obtain the welfare money were asked to sign their names on request documents. However, they were put on a long waiting list while their money was being diverted to someone else.
“Corruption in state agencies stems from these familiar methods,” Lt Col Kornthip said.
“It’s hard to believe state officials don’t have knowledge about them.”
If welfare centre chiefs collude in the wrongdoing, money will be easily embezzled because they are authorised to grant money.
The process of financial disbursement is not subject to cross-checking by other agencies before the money is granted to the poor.
“It’s a flaw that breeds fraud and dishonesty, regardless of whether it happened intentionally or unintentionally,” Gen Jaramporn said.
It is also a reason that explains why the aid money scandal is rampant in some welfare centres and has gone undetected in the past.
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