Plai Na sub-district officials in Suphanburi province use a drone to spray disinfectant on April 6, 2020.
Plai Na sub-district officials in Suphanburi province use a drone to spray disinfectant on April 6, 2020.

BANGKOK — Local administration organizations are struggling to secure coronavirus relief funds from the government after the Ministry of Interior Affairs refused to categorize the epidemic as a disaster, an opposition MP said Friday.

Pheu Thai MP Chiya Promma said the ministry’s interpretation of the law is taking away the opportunity for local administrators to disburse the budget from the central government and use it to fight the COVID-19 outbreak in their areas effectively.

“The finance ministry’s regulation on disaster relief funds defined disaster as a hazard caused by disease transmission among humans, while the World Health Organization also declared COVID-19 as a pandemic,” Chiya said. 

He continued, “But the interior affairs ministry’s interpretation barred them from the fund. The government doesn’t want them to be equipped in the fight against the epidemic.”

The decision meant local authorities across the country, who are shouldering an increasing responsibility to contain the virus, do not have access to the government’s central budget. 

Chiya, who also chairs the House Committee of Budget Administration and Follow-up, said the interior ministry claimed that the Ministry of Public Health has not yet formally declared the coronavirus as an “epidemic,” thus it is not considered as a public disaster.

He said the government’s reluctance might have resulted from its attempt to keep the central budget within its own hands.

“I ask the Ministry of Interior to promptly reconsider this,” Chiya said.

A similar confrontation between the central government and local officials played out in 2018, when the government refused to recognize a nationwide outbreak of rabies as a “disaster.” The refusal subsequently barred many areas from an access to rabies vaccines stockpiled by the central health authority.