‘Not Enough Money,’ Prayut Slashes 3-Month Relief Program

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after the Cabinet meeting on April 15, 2020.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after the Cabinet meeting on April 15, 2020.

BANGKOK — Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday said the government may be able to pay only one month of the promised three-month cash relief package for workers affected by the coronavirus epidemic.

The government had earlier planned to give 5,000 baht cash handout to temporary, contract, and self-employed workers who are not covered by the social security system for three consecutive months, beginning this April. Officials also said the program might even be extended for six months, if the pandemic does not subside.

But speaking to the media after the Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prayut said the government is struggling to secure funding for the next round of handouts.

“I feel sympathetic and sorry for the people,” Prayut said. “I have to admit that the government had initially planned to allocate the 50 billion baht budget to help three million people for three months.”

He went on, “But since more than 9 million people signed up for the program, the government could only give it for one month to cover all affected people.”

PM Prayut said he will propose slashing 10 percent of each ministerial budget and pushing a 1 trillion baht loan bill into the parliament to help top up funding for the program. 

However, he does not expect these solutions to arrive any time soon.

“The government has to admit that we only have the figures to mitigate those who are affected by the COVID-19 epidemic, but not the actual money,” Prayut said. “Therefore, we have to enact a bill to support relief programs for the people. Please don’t be worried, we are doing our best to take care of Thai people.”

Leaving No One Behind?

The cash handout program, called “No One Left Behind,” is one of the stimulus packages announced by the government to help people and businesses affected by the epidemic.

But since its inception, the program has been criticized by the public as only a fraction of the 27 million people who applied online have been approved so far.

On Tuesday, about a hundred people whose registrations were turned down stormed the Ministry of Finance to file their appeals. Finance Ministry perm-sec Prasong Puntaneat later told the crowd to return home and file their appeals online.

Despite the government’s insistence that the applicants are screened by artificial intelligence technology, many people said their applications were rejected after the system wrongly classified them as farmers, students, or entrepreneurs – groups not eligible to enroll in the program.

Members of the opposition Move Forward Party also went to the government’s complaint center today and filed a petition, demanding the government to expand relief programs to other groups of people and remove hurdles for registration.

Luck Runs Out

Caught up in the global pandemic is the business at the heart of so many in Thailand: the lottery. The industry is reportedly responsible for at least 1.8 billion baht of cash circulation per each draw, which takes place twice a month.

Today, a group of lottery vendors threatened to burn their unsold lottery tickets in protest after the Government Lottery Office has further postponed its April 1 draw to May 16.

The office cited the spread of COVID-19, which resulted in lower sales of lottery tickets.

“I understand that the office wants to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The vendors are doing our best to protect ourselves, but we can’t sell the tickets because the draw date keeps shifting,” vendor Tim Saknil said. “We want clarity from the office, are we going to keep it moving like this?”

A lottery vendor on Thep Rak Road in Bangkok's Bang Khen district on April 15, 2020.
A lottery vendor on Thep Rak Road in Bangkok’s Bang Khen district on April 15, 2020.