Problems starting over how money raised by Rockstar Toon Bodyslam should be used
Rock musician Athiwara “Toon Bodyslam” Khongmalai’s running of the entire length of the country to raise money has succeeded beyond anybody’s expectations by taking in a staggering amount of money that will be donated to 11 mostly rural hospitals.
It was a feel-good event on a national scale, something that has become increasingly rare in a country that has found itself turning inward. Even the junta joined in the festive fun – doing everything from joining photo ops and dispatching bodyguard runners to donating to the cash-starved, government-supported hospitals – not realizing the irony after dropping billions in 2017 on new weapons.
With the event now done and a new year dawning, Thailand’s collective attention was overdue for a shift. But, at 1.3 billion baht and counting (over USD$40 million), some bureaucrats saw a full cookie jar to reach into.
For instance, a doctor with ties to the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, a state agency that promotes preventive health care, suggested that it too should get a piece of the pie because investing in disease prevention trumps spending on treatment. The immediate outcry from social media was enough to scare them off – for now.
From the beginning, the charity run’s stated goal was to raise funds for the sole purpose of procuring medical supplies and equipment.
Such obvious peril aside, the fund was nevertheless destined to be nothing more than another one-and-done, give-and-forget, leave-it-to-the-good-people reservoir of handouts – when in fact it could have been so much more.
The presumption that medical communities can take charge and ensure the money is well spent leaves the charity organizers with one thing left to do: dole it out and go home. Individual hospitals are supposed to draw up spending proposals, each having total control over their shares. But without careful planning and coordination, I fear a big chunk of that money could end up lining the pockets of medical supply vendors.
There has been little discussion of accountability or the best way to maximize the benefits of this unprecedented sum of donated cash. For one thing, the stuff these hospitals want is largely the same, yet nobody has bothered to look at the feasibility of pooling their purchasing power and demanding reasonable discounts.
Of particular concern is the exorbitant cost of high-end medical devices – all of which have to be imported – with fat profit margins going to everyone in the supply chains. Alas, it would be naive to expect overworked staff in public hospitals to haggle over prices and try to squeeze good deals out of suppliers who unsurprisingly have no incentive to give in – especially to such captive buyers with sudden injections of cash.
Only the man himself could drive the billion-baht fund to run as far and as hard as he did. At this order of magnitude, even a small percentage saved would be meaningful.
Now, he would do well by learning from the examples of many tech leaders who were fed up with traditional charities and created their own foundations to better administer financial resources. An organization set up in a similar managerial style, one run transparently and efficiently, would be a fitting conclusion to this undertaking.