TSUNAMI CASH ROW
Foreign diplomats 'acted on rumour'
Diplomats' cash claims 'undermined Thailand's good will'
Villagers bring pictures of those who were killed in the tsunami to a merit-making ceremony yeaserday in Phang Nga's Takua Pa district to commenmorate the second anniversary fo the disaster.
A senior Foreign Ministry official yesterday said diplomats of seven countries should have double-checked information with Thai authorities before alleging the misuse of Bt60 million in donations given for identification of tsunami victims.
Kulkumut Singhara na Ayutthaya, director-general of the Department of European Affairs, also expressed "serious concern" over the issue, saying it had adversely affected Thailand's public image in the international community.
"They [embassy officials] should not have relied on only rumours [about the alleged misuse of money] and reacted. They should have submitted a request to the relevant Thai agencies seeking clarification on the spending," he said.
He said the issue had undermined Thailand's good will and all efforts made in helping tsunami victims throughout the past two years. "All the efforts and everything are now completely wiped out merely by a rumour suggesting the misuse of the money," he added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont yesterday summoned national police chief General Kowit Wattana to discuss the diplomats' allegations.
Though polite, a letter signed by the diplomats requested that "a reputable and qualified private accountancy company" conduct an internal audit of the funds covering the period from January 2005 until the present time. The letter was addressed to Kowit.
According to a source, Kowit informed Surayud that a fact-finding committee had already been set up to look into the scandal.
"Relevant officials have been asked to clarify their disbursement of funds in detail," the source quoted Kowit as saying.
The source added that Surayud instructed Kowit to ensure transparency and emphasised that this scandal could harm the country's image.
Police General Noppadol Somboonsap, who previously played a key role in the tsunami identification process, separately said foreign officials usually came to work in Thailand for just 15 days and their travel expenses must have been covered by the funds.
He was speaking in response to a claim that more than 60 per cent of the funds were wasted and disguised as travelling and other miscellaneous costs.
Noppadol was the person initially authorised to withdraw money from a bank account that was opened to hold funds for the tsunami victims' identification.
However, a source said a police colonel later took care of the account in place of Noppadol.
"We have found that an approval for a Bt5-million purchase of redundant software had been granted. There are many receipts for items that cannot be located when the need to use them arises," the source said.
The source added that the police colonel was believed to have pocketed about Bt15 million.
In a related development, Prathan Banperng - one of the tsunami survivors in Phang Nga - complained that parents had yet to receive Bt15,000 promised for their children's education.
"The government didn't keep its word," he said.