PM transfers internal trade chief amid reports of face mask exports

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Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has transferred the director-general of the Department of Internal Trade (DIT), Wichai Pochanakit, to the Office of Prime Minister after rumours of hoarding of face masks amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The premier said the aim of the move was to re-establish people’s confidence in the government and investigate rumours of the hoarding face masks to sell in international markets.

The director-general will continue his duties in the PM’s Office until the investigation is completed. He will be monitored and supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office permanent secretary.

The DIT’s new chief will be decided in the future.

Meanwhile, the besieged Wichai filed a libel complaint with police on March 12 against Chaiyuth Khamkhun, spokesman of the Customs Department.

Chaiyuth had earlier told the media that exports of face masks still continued even after the government’s ban order to tackle the problem of shortage of face masks during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Exports of face masks and related medical products currently require permission from the Department of Internal Trade.

People have been angry as they could not buy face masks at drug stores or convenience stores due to shortage while Wichai has assured adequate supplies.

Wichai also demanded the Thai Pharmacies Association to send a letter of apology to him after the association told the public that drug stores did not get face masks despite Wichai’s promise to distribute to them.

In the export document circulated among the press on Sunday, the department allegedly allowed exports of one million pieces of face marks to Chicago in the United States dated March 11.

Meanwhile, Chaiyuth confirmed to The Nation on Sunday the Customs statistics showing export of face marks after February 5, when the face mask export ban order took effect.

He, however, did not confirm the report about one million face masks being exported to Chicago, which was circulated in social media and the local press on Sunday.

Prayut’s government has faced heavy criticism over the shortage and overpricing of face marks amid reports of a rising number of infections.

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