$573,861 'missing' in book deal

A teachers' business organisation was at fault for signing a publishing deal with a local administrative body in Udon Thani to print more than 3.5 million notebooks at prices higher than usual, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) said yesterday.

The Udon Thani Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) paid the Bt31.9-million contract value to the Office of the Welfare Promotion Commission for Teachers and Education Personnel (OTEP). But DSI chief Tharit Phengdit said Bt14 million of this could have been saved - and the DSI was working to find out who pocketed it.

The OTEP had secured the deal for Bt31,999,995 from the PAO, but hired three companies, without bidding as required, to do the job for Bt17,776,352.78. It then failed to return the Bt14 million ($573,861) in difference to the PAO.

"There would be more notebooks published for schoolchildren if the OTEP had performed its role in a transparent way," he said. The DSI is probing similar contracts worth Bt208 million the OTEP has been dealing with in the past five years.

OTEP secretary-general Kasem Klangying and 10 other officials have been indicted for violating a Cabinet directive over the special bidding process and the DSI's recommendation for criminal prosecution has been submitted to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The 11 officials could be charged additionally with violating anti-bid rigging laws if more evidence was produced against them, Tharit said.

The contract value was set at Bt9 apiece, a rate estimated by the Finance Ministry, but the median price ruled by the Office of Auditor General is lower at Bt6 - a rate DSI deputy chief Thanin Preepree said could have been lower.