UBON RATCHATHANI — Residents without smartphones, most of them elderly people living in rural areas, are queuing up in droves Monday to register for a government shopping subsidy worth 7,000 baht.
The handout, called Rao Chana or “We Win,” became available for smartphone users starting Jan. 29, but an offline registration for the program only opened nationwide on Monday. The result is massive queues at the branches of Krung Thai Bank – the sole bank chosen by the government for its subsidy – across the country throughout the day.
“I’m worried that I won’t get the money,” Pa Kanarong, 79, said. Since she didn’t own any smartphone, the elderly woman had to start lining up at Ubon Ratchathani city’s Krung Thai bank branch early in the morning.
Many residents spent hours in the line only to be told to go home, since the bank can only process up to 100 queues per day. Krung Thai Bank also opened extra registration points in some provinces in a bid to reduce the crowd, like City Halls, temples, and markets – but that didn’t seem to solve the problem of long queues.
“So many people came, and there was no organization. Everyone was rushing to get inside,” Pha Kenaphumi, 78, said in front of a branch of Krung Thai in Phayao province.
At Bang Bua Tong branch in Nonthaburi, an elderly woman named Noi was in tears because she said bank tellers verbally abused her. Noi said she queued up since 7am, but failed to register because the bank would only accept 100 applicants today.
“The officials were as ferocious as dogs. I’m a person, not a rock. My ears hear, my eyes see. Why can’t they just speak nicely?” she told reporters. “How would you feel, if your parents were treated like this?”
At one branch in Phetchabun province, the limit per day was as low as 60, prompting many in the queues to go home empty handed. Boonrawd Potibow, 71, said he joined the long line in front of the bank at around 7am.
“I can’t go to other branches, because I don’t have a car,” Boonrawd said. “Riding a sam lor [a three-wheeled tuk-tuk] is too expensive. I don’t have money to lose, and I’m afraid that going elsewhere will have queues full there as well.”
The man said he only receives the monthly stipend from the government for the retirees, and only owns an old phone that can only make and receive calls.
“If I get this money, then I can stock up on food,” he said.
Elderly residents in Korat said they had come as early as 5am, and even 3am. Many said they have smartphones, but were unable to successfully register online. Bank employees had to set up workstations in tents outside of the bank to accommodate them. Police officers were deployed to ease the flow of crowds and traffic at the Krung Thai branch in Phimai district.
Huge crowds of people also spilled onto the streets while they were queuing up at the Krung Thai branch’s Bang Saphan branch in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
The first round of the “We Win” shopping handout was open to smartphone users from Jan. 29 to Feb. 12. Nearly 11 million people signed up for it. Registration for those without internet access or smartphones runs from Feb. 15 to Feb. 25.
Applicants must present a Thai ID card that has a microchip on it; those without one must register for a new card at the local district office first.
Successful applicants would receive 4,000 baht on March 5, then 1,000 baht for the next three Fridays, or March 12, 19, and 26.
The money cannot be withdrawn as cash, but has to be used as credits from their ID cards until May 31 at shops that participate in the shopping subsidy scheme and Thong Fah government stores, which sells food and household goods at low prices.
Although the online phase of the registration ran mostly smoothly, the government has clearly underestimated the number of people who have no smart phones.
Finance minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the government would consider expanding the registration to other bank branches as well as extending the deadline, due to the huge queues seen today.
“We do not know how many more this group of people without smartphones is,” Arkhom told reporters.
In response to the criticism, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said he would extend the registration deadline if it’s necessary.
Krung Thai Bank also urged people without internet access to sign up for the handout on other days instead of rushing to the bank in large numbers. Ironically enough, the statement was posted on the bank’s Facebook account.