School principal given 50 years in prison over lunch corruption scandal in Thailand

Today, Thailand’s Criminal Court for Corruption sentenced the former principal of Ban Tha Mai School in Surat Thani province, southern Thailand, to 50 years imprisonment. The defendant Somchaow Sittichen confessed to stealing lunch money and serving kindergarten children plain rice noodles with fish sauce for lunch.

The court found Somchaow guilty of 77 counts of corruption, each carrying a five-year sentence. Initially, the court sentenced the ex-principal to 385 years in prison.

However, his actual prison sentence cannot be higher than 50 years according to Section 91(3) of the penal code. The law states that anyone found guilty of multiple counts of a crime carrying up to a 10-year sentence may be imprisoned for a maximum of 50 years unless the court sentences them to life imprisonment.

The court did not say how much money Somchaow embezzled or how long the kindergarten children were served the abysmal lunches.

However, the court did say that he had committed a serious crime because the children did not receive enough nutrition sufficient for physical development. The court said his actions will have long-term negative effects on the children.

In July, pictures of an inedible-looking lunch from a school in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, also in southern Thailand, sparked outrage online. Netizens pressed the government to investigate corruption at the school.

Netizens asked whether 21 baht per student was a sufficient budget for lunch and questioned where the rest of the lunch budget was going.

Thailand is known for high levels of corruption in every sector, including education. Corruption is widely considered to have worsened since the military coup of 2014 ousted the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thai schools receive government subsidies for each enrolled student. Students in grades 7-9 are given a budget of 4,800 per year and students in grades 10 – 12 are allocated a budget of 6,250.

This has allegedly led to schools inflating their enrollments with “ghost students.” One school was found to have as many as 196 ghost students.

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Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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