Aquar­ium graft probe hauls in big fish

Ed­u­ca­tion min­istry staff to be in­ves­ti­gated

Bangkok Post - - NATIONAL - POST RE­PORTERS

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.

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