Budgets approved at $14 a shot when going prices drop to $9, says Korat MP
A medical worker shows the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine at the Bang Sue Grand Station in Bangkok on May 26 this year. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
A Pheu Thai MP has questioned a 2-billion-baht difference between the approved budgets and the paid prices for five batches of the Sinovac vaccine Thailand bought during the no-confidence debate.
Prasert Chantararuangthong, a Pheu Thai MP for Nakhon Ratchasima, talked about the mismanagement of the Covid-19 situation during the debate on its first day on Tuesday.
The MP showed documents listing import plans, prices per dose and the budgets approved by the cabinet from February to August this year. He claimed he got the papers from an official at the Public Health Ministry “who could no longer stand it”.
Since February, Thailand has bought 18.5 million doses of the vaccines, he said, adding that China also donated another 1 million doses during the period.
The budgets approved by the cabinet for the purchases were $17 (556 baht) a dose, or $331 million in total. The prices, however, varied between $9 and $17 a dose, totalling $267 million.
Mr Prasert questioned to whose pocket the difference, or “change”, of $64 million (2 billion baht) had gone.
He added this did not include 12 million doses the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration had approved to buy on Aug 16, which would bring the total to 31.5 million doses.
If the cabinet approves a budget for this batch at the same $17 price per dose when the going price now is $9 each, the difference will be $96 million (3.1 billion baht) in total, said Mr Prasert.
The MP cited another source, the meeting minutes of the House panel on consumer protection on Aug 15, to substantiate his claim since the panel had summoned representatives from the Public Health Ministry and the Government Pharmaceuticals Organization (GPO) to testify.
Moreover, he said, the deals with Sinovac Life Science Co were not made in contracts. The company has gradually reduced the prices from $17 a shot in the first order to $9 each in the fifth order. Yet the approved budgets did not reflect the changes but were still fixed at $17 a dose.
The prices were higher than what other countries paid. Citing as examples, Mr Prasert said Nepal and Bangladesh paid $10 a shot while Indonesia and Brazil were charged 460 and 337 baht each.
Mr Prasert also wondered why the government needed to buy Sinovac when the manufacturer of the Sinopharm vaccine was a Chinese state enterprise.
If Sinopharm had been chosen, government-to-government deals would have been possible, eliminating the need to pay value-added tax and import duty.
On this, Prime Minister Prayut only told the House: “If ‘change’ really exists, find out who got it. I accept all probes. Even when I was [with] the NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order], I was investigated. Don’t say I exercise coup power because it’s not a correct understanding.”
The heads of three departments of the Public Health Ministry held a briefing at Parliament in the afternoon in response to the opposition’s claims about vaccines.
Witoon Danwiboon, director-general of the GPO, said his office had to directly import the Sinovac vaccine because the manufacturer did not have a representative office in Thailand.
He said the $17 price per dose was for the first 2 million shots only.
“Brazil and Indonesia paid less because they are research areas where the vaccine was bought and locally bottled. Thailand, on the other hand, bought the vaccine in the standard package.
“After some bargaining and several orders, the prices came down to $8.9, or $11.99 [per dose] on average,” he said.
Dr Wiboon insisted there was no “change”.
“GPO acts as the buyer, using its own budget. We then sell the shots to the [Disease Control] department and charge it for other expenses, including transport, at cost,” he said.
He also explained the approved budgets were just the limits — if the actual prices were lower, the remaining sums would not be used so no one stood to gain from them.