Phuket in eye of national park corruption storm

PHUKET: Seven marine national parks for which Phuket is a major gateway for tourists will be investigated for alleged corruption in the collection of admission fees.

A team officers to investigate the alleged corruption was selected on Saturday.

Sunant Arunnopparat, director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said an impartial official from the department would be selected as its chairman.

“So far, I haven’t issued any order to remove the park wardens who have been the subject of complaints during the past few months. The department needs to investigate the issue carefully,” Mr Sunant said yesterday.

The national parks under suspicion include Mu Ko Surin, Mu Ko Similan, Hat NopparatTara, Mu Ko Phi Phi, Mu Ko Tarutao and Ao Phangnga.

Songtham Sooksawang, director of the National Parks Division, on Friday attended a “brainstorming” session on measures to rehabilitate bleached coral reefs in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.

Recommendations from the seminar will be submitted to the prime minister tomorrow.

The admission fees scandal was the hottest topic at the seminar, organized by the For Sea Foundation.

Mr Sunant said the department would welcome any information related to ticket graft from the public.

Agencies in the department are to show him attendance figures for the past five years for the parks in question. He will meet with those agencies this week, he said.

Natural and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti denied that the ministry was ignoring the problem. He said the case had been referred to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), which operates under the Ministry of Justice, not under the Ministry of Interior.

“I admit that admission fee corruption has taken place for several years but the ministry did not stand idle. We asked the DSI to investigate the case but the problem has never ended as the department lacks measures to control all tourists without explanation,” he said.

However, he said he would ask the DSI about the progress of its inquiry next week after he gets back from a forestry meeting in the US.

Mr Sunant said he would look into missing admission income and try to find a way to resolve the problem.

The department has also been instructed to come up with rules to control dive boats and tourists visiting national marine parks so it can ensure admission fees are collected correctly, he said.

— The Nation

Phuket News
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