Aquarium graft probe hauls in big fish
Education ministry staff to be investigated
The Education Ministry is set to launch a disciplinary probe against high-ranking ministry officials who were allegedly involved in malfeasance regarding the construction of an aquarium and marine research centre in Songkhla.
“They will face severe disciplinary charges if the probe finds they committed wrongdoing as accused,” Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin said yesterday.
He said high-ranking “C-11” officials and mid-level officials were found to have been involved in the project, some of whom had retired since the project started in 2001.
Dr Teerakiat said he would appoint a committee to conduct more disciplinary probes of officials who hold the C-11 rank. The office of the permanent secretary for education is now selecting panel members for his approval, he added.
The permanent secretary for education will set up a separate panel to probe officials at C-10 and lower levels, the minister said.
The investigation will expand beyond the ministry, however, he said, adding the National Anti-Corruption Commission will also be responsible for looking into retired officials suspected of involvement and wrongdoing.
The minister declined to reveal any names at this stage.
The probes are being launched after a fact-finding mission that began in January confirmed the project may have been tainted with corruption involving ministry staff.
At the centre of the case is the Songkhla Lake aquaculture research centre, dubbed the Hoi Sang (conch) aquarium. The facility is located on the premises of Tinsulanonda Fisheries College in Muang district.
Construction began in 2001. The deadline for completion was originally set for 2011, meaning the project has now overrun by seven years.
The project has been divided into two phases. The first phase was allocated a budget of 835 million baht and 313 million baht has been set aside for phase two.
The deadline has been pushed back repeatedly as the ministry has reportedly struggled to find more funds to get the job done.
The aquarium was developed by the Office of the Vocational Education Commission.
The delay and rumours of corruption prompted a group of concerned parents of university students to send a letter of petition to the education minister in January warning him about the possibility of graft.
The aquarium is the latest corruption scandal to hit the Education Ministry.
Early this year, seven high-ranking officials and retirees were found to have been involved in the embezzlement of more than 88 million baht from a protection fund supposed that was designed and set up to help underprivileged children.
More recently, the Education Ministry has been hit by a series of corruption scandals related to the provision of students’ school lunches.