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05BANGKOK6462 UNCERTAINTY OVER PUBLIC HEALTH MINISTER’S RESIGNATION

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“42476”,”10/12/2005 9:59″,”05BANGKOK6462″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”04BANGKOK5615″,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 006462

 

SIPDIS

 

INFO ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS

HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/12/2015

TAGS: PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: UNCERTAINTY OVER PUBLIC HEALTH MINISTER\’S

RESIGNATION

 

REF: 2004 BANGKOK 5615

 

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR SUSAN M. SUTTON

 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Public Health Minister Dr. Suchai

Charoenratanakul recently announced his resignation,

effective at the end of this month, following several weeks

of political in-fighting with another cabinet minister and

party officials. The political fracas began earlier this

month when Suchai removed a permanent secretary for alleged

corruption and attempted to transfer 9 additional senior

officials as part of a ministry shake-up. This sparked a row

with his predecessor, powerful TRT faction leader and present

Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphanthin. Sudarat won and

speculation began over another Cabinet reshuffle in the near

future. Reports in the Thai press on October 11 said that

Thaksin, if unable to persuade Suchai to stay on, may opt to

appoint an acting Minister of Health in lieu of a reshuffle.

END SUMMARY.

 

WHEN DOCTORS BECOME POLITICIANS

 

2. (C) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra,s appointment of

Dr. Suchai as Public Health Minister marked the first time in

20 years that a medical doctor had been placed in the highest

public health position in Thailand. Suchai had long been in

good graces with the Shinawatra family, having been personal

physician to the Prime Minister\’s mother-in-law for many

years. Suchai,s first six months on the job were

uneventful, although rumors persisted of his inability to

exert influence over subordinate officials within the Public

Health Ministry.

 

3. (C) In early September, Dr. Suchai,s frustration

appeared to reach the breaking point over the failure of the

Ministry to conclude a contract for the purchase of 232

ambulances, reportedly worth 464 million Baht ($11.6 million

USD). Dr. Suchai accused Health Ministry Permanent Secretary

Vichai Tienthavorn of corruption involving the deal and

immediately transferred him to an inactive post in the Prime

Minister\’s office. Less than a week later, Dr. Suchai

ordered the removal of 9 other senior officials within the

Ministry, claiming they were not competent, although the less

publicized reason is that they were reportedly not

demonstrating sufficient loyalty to Dr. Suchai. The attempt

to remove the 9 officials began while Thaksin was in the U.S.

— leaving the final disposition of the antagonists\’ fate

until his return.

 

WHOA! NOT SO FAST!

 

4. (C) The removal of the Permanent Secretary and attempted

transfer of the other 9 officials did not sit well with

everyone. One cabinet member that did not approve of the

transfer was Agricultural Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, who

was Dr. Suchai,s predecessor in the Ministry of Public

Health. Sudarat had personally promoted most of the removed

officials and immediately complained to Thaksin upon his

return from the U.S. Less obviously, Vichai had come to

Sudarat,s defense when she was under fire for last year\’s

computer scandal (reftel), and political insiders see this as

her returning the favor. In addition, the removed officials

also accused Dr. Suchai of being incompetent and unable to

handle his new position. Visibly unhappy that this move took

place during his absence, the Prime Minister vetoed the

transfer order and urged Dr. Suchai to reconsider the list.

 

LEAVING AT MONTH\’S END?

 

5. (C) Dr. Suchai abruptly resigned just a few days after

Thaksin encouraged him to give up the fight. Dr. Suchai,

both embarrassed and frustrated that he lost the fight to run

the Ministry as he saw fit, was visibly teary-eyed when he

stated on October 5th &I am not a politician and accepted my

office at the government\’s invitation, hence I am willing to

sacrifice my job for the sake of public interest.8 Several

Thai Senators have been quoted as describing the incident as

blatant political interference that will ultimately hurt the

Ministry\’s ability to function effectively. There is still

speculation that Suchai will give in to Thaksin\’s persuasion

and rescind his resignation. Other reports say that if

Suchai remains determined to leave, Thaksin will appoint an

acting Minister of Health in lieu of another cabinet

reshuffle. (Note: Factions within the TRT would likely

welcome another reshuffle and the chance of increasing their

shares of cabinet seats.)

 

6. (C) Comment: Although Thaksin has publicly claimed he

wants Dr. Suchai to reconsider, he is also evidently unhappy

that Dr. Suchai decided to resign without consulting with him

first. Of more immediate concern for Thaksin, however, is

the possibility that an aggrieved Dr. Suchai will use his

remaining time as Public Health Minister to exact revenge by

making more corruption allegations against ministry

officials. With an investigation against Permanent Secretary

Vichai already under way for the ambulance scandal, more

announcements of corruption within the Public Health Ministry

are the last thing Thaksin or the TRT needs. End Comment.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

July 7, 2011 at 6:06 am

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