Thai government defends $85b stimulus plan in first parliamentary debate since lockdown

BANGKOK – The Thai government on Wednesday (May 27) defended its 1.9 trillion baht (S$85 billion) stimulus plan to cushion the economic blow from the Covid-19 pandemic and to strengthen the kingdom’s healthcare system.

“The government has done everything we could in managing the current budgets. But the amounts are not enough to help affected people in all sectors,” said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

“Therefore, to restore trust in the country’s speedy recovery, the government needs to urgently fix the situation and stop the spread of Covid-19,” he added.

Mr Prayut also said the government had resorted to loans as a last resort to raise funds for the stimulus package.

The stimulus package – in a form of three Bills – was approved by the Cabinet on April 7 and came into effect on April 19.

One trillion baht will be in the form of loans including from bond issuance. Just over half of this amount or 555 billion baht will be set aside as cash relief for millions of people and businesses adversely affected by Covid-19, while 45 billion baht will be used to support public health works.

The remaining 400 billion baht will be used to create jobs and rebuild the economy, which contracted by 1.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, the worst showing since 2011.

Simultaneously, the Bank of Thailand is to provide soft loans worth 500 billion baht to smaller businesses and set up a corporate bond stabilisation fund worth 400 billion baht.

Wednesday was the first day of a five-day debate in parliament which is meeting for the first time since a partial lockdown was implemented in March. Thailand has been gradually lifting restrictions since May 3 as number of new Covid-19 cases have dipped to single digits a day and at times even to zero for the past month.

The opposition has sharply criticised many aspects of the stimulus package including for the lack of clarity of some spending especially the planned use of 400 billion baht to rebuild the economy and the government’s handling of its cash relief programme dubbed “No one Left Behind” which has left many millions in the lurch.

Concerns have also been raised over transparency issues and the burden to repay the massive loans.

“This is a huge amount of money. The government needs to clarify to the people in terms of the details of the disbursements of the budget and who will benefit from them,” said Mr Sompong Amornwiwat, the Opposition head from Pheu Thai Party.

The ratio of public debt to GDP for Thailand currently is 41.2 percent. The loans will push this up to 57.9 percent by September 2021.

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