US ’behind’ WHO official’s ouster

Bangkok Post | 20 June 2006

STRING PULLING / ALDIS WARNED AGAINST THAI-US FREE TRADE PACT

US ’behind’ WHO official’s ouster

POST REPORTERS

Washington was behind the abrupt removal of a World Health Organisation representative to Thailand after he wrote of possible adverse impacts to Thailand of a free trade agreement with the US, a source said yesterday.

In an article published in the Bangkok Post on Jan 9, William Aldis urged Thailand to think carefully before inking the FTA pact with the US, saying that restrictive intellectual property rights under the bilateral trade agreement would prevent Thailand from using affordable locally produced generic drugs.

He said anti-viral HIV drugs would be extremely expensive after the FTA went into force.

The critical piece was published as the sixth round of Thai-US FTA negotiations took place in Chiang Mai.

In March, the late WHO director-general Lee Jong-wook decided to transfer Mr Aldis to a research position in New Delhi.

The Asia Times Online website ran an investigative report about the transfer of Mr Aldis on Saturday.

The report said the removal of the WHO representative reflected powerful US influence on the international body.

The report quotes an unnamed WHO source as saying Lee decided to recall Mr Aldis shortly after a US ambassador to the UN in Geneva paid a private visit to Lee on March 23 to express Washington’s displeasure with Mr Aldis’ article in the Bangkok Post.

The US government also asked Lee to remind senior WHO officials to "remain neutral and objective", it said.

The report said Suwit Wibulpolprasert, a senior adviser to the Public Health Ministry, had sent a letter to WHO headquarters earlier this month requesting an explanation for the abrupt removal of Mr Aldis.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, the current WHO representative to Thailand, P.T. Jayawickramarajah, who succeeded Mr Aldis, declined to comment on the transfer, saying the rotation of staff was conducted on a regular basis.

"I don’t know about the reason behind the abrupt removal of Mr Aldis," Mr Jayawickramarajah said yesterday.

"According to the employment contract, WHO officials can be assigned to any place in the world and we have to follow the instructions. I don’t think that Mr Aldis would be shocked," he added.

Reports about US influence on the WHO would not affect his freedom to express an opinion, he added.

FTAWatch, a group campaigning against Thailand’s free trade agreements, yesterday issued a statement condemning the US government’s alleged intervention in WHO affairs.

The group called on the WHO to "revise its position and liberate the organisation from Washington’s influence".

"How can the WHO protect the rights of the people to fair public health care if the organisation surrenders to an influential nation?" the group said in the statement.

FTAWatch called on the WHO to "protect the freedom of expression" of its officials who bravely act to protect the interest of developing countries.

source: Bangkok Post