Advocates urge board to keep agency free of political puppets

Civil society groups have urged the National Health Security Office (NHSO) chief to ensure the appointment of two deputy secretary-generals is free from political interference.

About 30 members of the People's Health Systems Movement and cancer and kidney patient networks met NHSO secretary-general Dr Winai Sawasdivorn yesterday to call for transparency in the recruitment process.

Supatra Nakaphiew, director of the Centre for Aids Rights, who led the groups yesterday, said the appointments should have been completed by Jan 14, but had been delayed.

The delay has prompted the group to suspect political interference in the appointments, Ms Supatra said.

Ms Supatra said the NHSO had many capable people suitable for the positions, so the board should not consider outsiders.

"We're afraid an outside candidate will be a puppet of a politician," she said.

The NHSO in December resolved to add two more deputy secretary-general positions to the agency, bringing the total to five.

The approval of the positions prompted some activists who are also board members to walk out in protest as they fear the move will allow politicians to meddle in the board's operations and budget.

NHSO secretary-general Winai Sawasdivorn said the additional appointments are aimed to support the NHSO's work.

The new deputies would take responsibility for managing the agency's clearing house of claims and preparing for changes under the Asean Economic Community in 2015, he said.

Atthasit Kanjanasinit, a former MP of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, was reportedly one of the applicants.

Dr Winai yesterday told the activists the recruitment process would be free of political interference.

The delay in recruitment resulted from the need to verify candidates' qualifications and their eligibility, he said.

The NHSO was created in 2002 to oversee the universal healthcare programme, which provides coverage for 48 million people.

The agency has more than 800 staff with an annual budget of 100 billion baht.

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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat