Prayut Walks Back on Slashing Cash Program, Blames ‘Miscommunication’

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Government House on April 16, 2020.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Government House on April 16, 2020.

BANGKOK — Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday said the government has enough money for the cash handout relief package to last for three months as planned. 

Walking back on his claim yesterday, when he said the government only had money for a month of assistance, PM Prayut said informal, contract, and self-employed workers hit by the coronavirus epidemic will receive a cash of 5,000 baht for three months.

“We will hand out 5,000 baht for three months, for sure,” Prayut said. “Please be rest assured and I’m sorry for my remarks yesterday which might have caused concerns and misunderstandings.”

The Prime Minister continued, “I insist that the government is committed to take care of the citizens for the next three months. We’re deliberating on how to allocate money to other groups.”

His apology came after PM Prayut himself said the government may be able to pay only a month of the promised cash, since the 1-trillion baht loan bill necessary to fund the subsequent months is yet to be approved by the parliament.

His remarks were met with a furious backlash – and even suicide threats from some of the poor – prompting government spokeswoman Naruemon Pinyosinwat to tell the media a few hours later that the Prime Minister was only intending to show the process of securing the fund.

“The Prime Minister didn’t say that the government doesn’t have enough budget or would only pay for one month,” Naruemon said. “He meant to explain the situation. The government confirmed there’s enough budget to cover every occupation group. He is concerned about the people’s hardship and he wants to help them.”

Finance minister Uttama Savanayana also took to his Facebook to insist that the relief package will continue as planned.

“We have previously allocated funds from the 2020 fiscal year to support the program,” Uttama said. “We will allocate more funds from the one-trillion baht loan bill, which has been approved by the Cabinet last week. It is currently going through the process and we are doing our best to accelerate it.”

The government will allow people who believe they are wrongly disqualified from the scheme to file an appeal online from April 20 onwards, Uttama added. He said officials will meet with each applicant in person to verify their claims.

Despite the government’s decision to open for appeals, officially called “rights reconsideration,” a group of 20 people who were turned down for the program submitted their complaints to the Administrative Court this morning.

“I want the court to order the government to pay cash relief to every affected citizen,” group leader Anurak Jeantawanich, an activist known by his alias “Ford Red Path,” said. “Only two million people, or three percent of the entire population, have been given the cash handout, but in fact, everyone in the country is affected by COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, reports of people’s grievance emerged across the country as only 1.68 million of the 27 million people who applied for the program have been approved so far. Many said the 5,000 baht cash handout is their last hope during the current economic havoc, which could leave millions without a job.

On Tuesday, a man in Ubon Ratchathani province attempted to drown himself to death after his whole family was rejected from the program. Police were able to rescue the man, who was later given a cash 500 baht to help his family. 

A 54-year-old masseuse in Loei province also complained to the media after she was somehow classified by the relief program operators as a student, and therefore not eligible to enroll in the program.

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