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ThaiHealth ‘is under siege’

Jan 07. 2016
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By The Nation

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Sacked longtime member claims alcohol, tobacco firms behind move to dismiss seven board members; government denies it acted under any external influence

FOR THE first time in its 14-year history, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation is facing a real threat to its status as a pillar of wellbeing for Thais.

Dr Wichai Chokwiwat, a widely respected figure in the healthcare industry and a long-time member of ThaiHealth’s board, said yesterday that the dismissal of seven ThaiHealth board members including him reflected ongoing efforts to bring down the organisation.

The dismissals took effect on Tuesday through an order issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, chief of the National Council for Peace and Order.

Wichai suspects that foreign alcohol and cigarette firms |were behind the move to bring about the collapse of ThaiHealth, which had been campaigning heavily against drinking and smoking.

“Some firms have seen ThaiHealth as their nemesis,” he said.

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya, however, firmly denied that.

“No, it’s definitely not about any alcohol or cigarette firm,” he said.

The board members were sacked on suspicions they had offered grants with ThaiHealth funds that were out of line with ThaiHealth’s mandate.

Prayut said he had no intention of destroying ThaiHealth.

“I won’t say yet whether they did right or wrong. Investigations will provide the answer,” he said.

After their ejection, the accused seven board members would definitely be unable to interfere in the probe in any way, he said.

The accused would also have time now to prepare their defence, he added.

Since its establishment in 2002, ThaiHealth has networked with thousands of groups and organisations as part of its mission to promote good health among Thais.

Funded by “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco, ThaiHealth had a budget of well over Bt5.1 billion last year to award to good causes.

 All seven persons removed from ThaiHealth’s board were experts selected through a transparent process.

Witoon Lianchamroon, director |of the Biodiversity Sustainable Agriculture Food Sovereignty Action Thailand, said all the departed board members had been close to civil society, so ThaiHealth might have lost its effectiveness for civil-sector promotion.

Ennu Suesuwan said he did not know why Prayut decided to kick him off the board.

“But if I have to guess it’s probably because I have also served on the boards of four or five other foundations. Some of them have received funding from ThaiHealth,” he said.

He denied a conflict of interest, saying he did not join ThaiHealth’s board for money.

Wichai said that, since ThaiHealth had no agency working for it, it was understandable that it had to look for allies and organisations with shared goals.

When the current government started scrutinising the ThaiHealth board members’ links to other foundations, some of them felt uneasy and offered to quit because they did not want anything from ThaiHealth anyway, he said.

“It’s me who asked them to stay to help with ThaiHealth’s work,” he said.

Prapapat Niyom said she had already submitted her resignation from the board but it had not yet taken effect.

“I don’t worry much about the new board members or what their background is. If they adhere to ThaiHealth’s principles to promote good healthcare and work for the public, there should be no problem,” she said.

Prapapat believes the post of ThaiHealth manager, which is also vacant, would not be filled until seven new board members were found.

Wichai said he hopes the newcomers are selected in a transparent and proper process and would not allow any interference in ThaiHealth’s operations.

ThaiHealth has managed its budget efficiently and applied its funding to great use, he said. Through the “seven dangerous days” safe-driving campaigns, ThaiHealth has helped slash the death toll during festive holidays from about 800 to 300-somthing in recent years, he said.

Those in power should consider how efficient ThaiHealth had been in delivering on its mission, Wichai added.

“I still believe that Prayut is determined to solve the country’s problems. So if we focus hard and draw on our wisdom, we should be able to find some good conclusion,” he said.

 

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