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Graft at self-help centres feared as elderly report scams

Mar 15. 2018
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AN ONGOING investigation has indicated corruption plaguing the government’s projects for self-help settlement communities and hill-tribe development centres.

In the 2017 fiscal year, projects received a budget of Bt350 million – much higher than Bt123 million for protection centres for the destitute, which are also mired in a corruption scandal.

“At this point, I cannot confirm as to whether corruption at self-help settlement communities and hill-tribe development centres is bigger, given that the investigation is still ongoing,” Public Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) assistant secretary-general Wannop Somjintanakul said yesterday. 

The PACC started investigating protection centres for the destitute last month after a university student notified authorities about irregularities at the Khon Kaen Protection Centre for the Destitute. 

The probe has found suspicious practices at dozens of the centres. 

The investigation has recently expanded to cover self-help settlement communities and hill-tribe development centres. 

Wannop said alleged irregularities had been detected at the Chiang Pin self-help settlement community, the first such community to be investigated. 

Located in Udon Thani and Nong Bua Lamphu provinces, the Chiang Pin self-help settlement community covers 41,000 people. 

“We have found suspicious items regarding how Bt7 million was spent on low-income earners and the destitute there during the past fiscal year.” 

He added that some people had never received financial assistance from the state, although their names appeared as recipients. 

“Some other people received financial help, but in an amount less than what was stated in the budget report,” Wannop said. 

He added that some fund recipients were not qualified as destitute. 

Peng Phusri, 84, said she had been given Bt1,000, but she was told to sign a receipt indicating the amount was Bt2,000. 

Another resident, who remained unidentified, said she had had a similar experience. 

“I have never received the full amount specified on the receipts I had to sign,” she said. 

A PACC team is in the process of interviewing more than 50 witnesses, most of whom are elderly. 

Wannop said the PACC would take legal action against implicated officials if their ranks were below or equivalent to the level of division director and if the alleged crimes did not involve more senior officials. 

“In the event that the accused junior officials are accomplices of senior officials, the National Anti-Corruption Commission will take charge of the case,” he said. 

The PACC planned to investigate the budgets of all 59 self-help settlement communities and hill-tribe development centres across the country to combat graft. 

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