BANGKOK — The opposition accused the government of writing a blank check for its cronies in a 1 trillion baht loan bill to fund coronavirus relief schemes, which began on Wednesday.
On the first day of Parliament’s reopening, Pheu Thai leader Sompong Amornvivat said the opposition is not against the loan, but scrutiny is necessary to ensure that the money is spent efficiently. Sompong said he learned that some of the funds had been allocated to different ministries before the bill was pushed into the parliament.
“After listening to the government’s rationale behind the bill, I think it doesn’t meet the problems. It doesn’t see the big picture,” Sompong said. “It allows the money to be used for political gain. Money can be allocated to MPs similar to a blank check.”
He continued, “The schemes must answer to the COVID-19 crisis and not to be spent extravagantly.”
Sompong also slammed the government for its failure in managing the coronavirus crisis. He pointed to the shortage of surgical masks and PPEs for healthcare professionals, the delay in government’s relief measures, and its reluctance to ease lockdown measures.
“Although the country has been praised for its disease control efforts, it fails in terms of alleviating and recovering the economy,” Sompong said. “The current fatalities from the COVID-19 and the number of people who committed sucide from economic fallout are now almost the same.”
Repeating an accusation of favoritism, Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn said the government was quick to cut compensation and rental rates for duty free retailers at airports even before relief programs for farmers were rolled out.
“When PM Prayut Chan-o-cha raised his hands and said ‘Thailand must win’, did he mean the citizens?” Wiroj said. “If citizens won, why did they line up hopelessly in front of the Ministry of Finance to appeal for the cash reliefs? The government’s winning stands on people’s hardship, sacrificing on tiny people and businesses.”
He then called for support in passing a motion to establish a House Committee to scrutinize the spending.
“The one trillion baht loan bill has seven pages, or 140 billion baht per page, 6.8 billion baht per line,” Wiroj said. “This is why the Move Forward Party has submitted a motion to establish an extraordinary committee to monitor the use of budget.”
PM Prayut said the bill is “inevitable” since the government has run short of money to contain the outbreak and alleviate citizens’ hardship.
“This is an emergency situation and the last option for the government,” Prayut said. “I hope this parliament will graciously approve the decrees for the benefit of the country’s economy.”
According to Prayut, the legislation consists of three separate loan decrees. The first deals with public health under the value of 45 billion baht, the second deals with business relief measures at 550 billion baht, while the third covers “economic and social recovery” at 400 billion baht.
He said the loan would not disrupt the country’s cash flow as it would raise the public debt to 57.96 percent of the GDP, well below the ceiling of 60 percent.
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