Thai PM Defends Digital Wallet Scheme in Parliament, Addresses Economic Concerns

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Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin addresses parliament on key economic issues to answer questions from Move Forward Party MP Sirikanya Tansakul during a parliamentary session on July 11, 2024.

BANGKOK — The Thai Prime Minister addressed parliament on key economic issues and digital wallet initiative while opposition MPs raised concerns about the difficult economic situation, with many businesses gradually closing down.

The highlight of the parliamentary session on July 11, 2024, was the ongoing economic concerns that have attracted public interest. This comes in the wake of numerous reports of business and factory closures, as well as the government’s economic stimulus plan, which includes digital wallets and has been criticized for its lack of clarity.

In Parliament, during a session chaired by Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, Move Forward Party MP Sirikanya Tansakul thanked Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin for personally answering Parliament’s questions of the biggest opposition party for the first time. She hoped that it would not be the last time and inquired about the progress of the digital wallet project. She pointed out that the Ministry of Finance has repeatedly changed the conditions and criteria for the project.

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Move Forward Party MP Sirikanya Tansakul thanked Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin for personally answering the biggest opposition party’s questions in Parliament for the first time.

Ms. Sirikanya gave examples of the original conditions under which each eligible citizen would have received 10,000 baht ($275) to buy cell phones, but now they cannot. Originally, fertilizers were not included in the purchase list, but now they are.

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The biggest problem for the public is the reduction of the target group from 50 million to 45 million people and the possible exclusion of loans from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), leaving only 450 billion baht ($12.4 billion) for distribution.

Prime Minister Srettha replied that the details of the digital wallet project would be officially announced on July 24. He emphasized that the minor changes to the products that can be purchased show that the government is listening to feedback from the public and taking into account the opinions of all parties, including businesses and the opposition. The government is keen to tailor the project to meet the needs of the public and achieve the main objective of boosting the economy.

Regarding the budget, the Prime Minister explained that the government has allocated about 43 billion baht ($1,185 million) from the central budget. The reduction of the project budget from 500 billion baht to 450 billion baht is based on historical data from the previous government’s allocations, which showed that not all of them have utilized their entitlement. However, efforts are being made to ensure appropriate budget allocation in compliance with legal and ethical standards.

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Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin addresses parliament on key economic issues to answer questions from Move Forward Party MP Sirikanya Tansakul during a parliamentary session on July 11, 2024.

“Digital wallets are a core policy of our government. We provide 10,000 baht per person and restrict the area of use to prevent concentration in major cities. Citizens can use them in their registered districts to boost the local economy, especially in underdeveloped provinces such as Nong Bua Lamphu and Maha Sarakham,” said Prime Minister Srettha.

Ms. Sirikanya continued by addressing the opposition’s view that more urgent than boosting the economy is addressing the cost of living. She pointed to concerns about the rising cost of essential goods and services such as fuel, eggs, fresh chicken, pork and electricity, with no obvious measures to alleviate these burdens.

She also expressed concern about the wave of factory closures and the closure of SMEs. Almost 2,000 factories have closed since 2023, putting around 50,000 jobs at risk.

Prime Minister Srettha acknowledged these problems and explained that the government was using the central budget to manage the cost of fuel, electricity, agriculture and healthcare. He assured that details of how the budget would be used to alleviate public suffering would be announced at the next meeting.

He pointed out that some measures to stimulate the economy do not require budgetary resources, such as the control of illegal goods. The government and the opposition disagree strongly on whether the factory closures constitute a crisis.

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“You know that GDP growth has been minimal in the last ten years and no major projects have been undertaken. Economic growth has mainly benefited the wealthy, while the poor have seen minimal progress. Post COVID-19, investments have remained at 1 percent and exports have declined,” Prime Minister Srettha added.

He emphasized that the factory closures underscore the need for the industry to adapt to modern global demands, a process that Thailand has been slow to embrace. Therefore, he is traveling abroad to negotiate with large companies to set up data centers and support new industries to spur economic growth.

Ms. Sirikanya criticized the government’s measures to boost the economy, arguing that they primarily benefit the wealthy or middle class. She cited tax incentives for tourism, the reduction in wine tax and the PGS 11 credit insurance scheme. She also mentioned the controversial proposal to increase the percentage of foreign ownership of real estate, which could drive up property prices and potentially force Thais to rent from foreigners.

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Prime Minister Srettha defended the proposal to allow foreigners 99-year land leases, emphasizing that this must encourage significant investment in Thailand and would be carried out with integrity and free from conflicts of interest.

“This government under my leadership will fight for the future and confront the opposition without foresight,” Prime Minister Srettha concluded.

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