After administration officials promised transparency, the Thai Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a U.S. $58 billion (1.8 trillion baht) stimulus package to resuscitate an economy expected to contract for the first time since 2009 because of ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic.
Except for a few abstentions, the 250-seat chamber voted in favor of the government’s counter-COVID-19 decrees, which will be presented to the Constitutional Court before being passed on to the king for his approval, according to the parliament. The action followed the Central Bank’s earlier prediction that the Thai economy could shrink by 5.3 percent this year.
After the lower house approved the packages on Sunday, the Senate spent two days debating while seeking confirmation from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s administration that there would be transparency in the spending process.
“I can tell that, in order to conduct any projects, the voices from the ground must be heard first and the wishes of all sectors, be they agriculture, industry, tourism, services and so on, will be honored,” Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda told the Senate on Monday, adding that Prayuth had heard their concerns.
In April, Prayuth sought a loan of $30.5 billion (962 billion baht) from domestic banks to improve public health services to fight COVID-19, cushion impacts on local businesses and hand out a relief subsidy of 15,000 baht ($458) to millions of citizens, including farmers and workers in the entertainment sector.
The packages include another $15.26 billion from the Bank of Thailand earmarked for soft loans to small and medium-sized enterprises and another $12.24 billion to aid established firms and stabilize bond markets.
Puri Pongsuthi, a pub and restaurant owner in Khon Kaen province, said he has faced losses because customers were allowed to sit in the restaurant to eat but he could not sell liquor.
“In the last two months I lost 83 percent of sales and I owe beer companies because I cannot sell beer even though it is my main source of income,” Puri told BenarNews. “I wish the government allows customers to sit in and drink beer.”
Opposition officials called for a house committee to be established to monitor spending – but there were no details on whether it would be established.
Anupong said certain projects and spending would be handled through a provincial committee, which would include private sector and civil society members to counter possible irregularities. He was one of the three key members of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official name of the junta that toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra six years ago in a coup led by Prayuth, the then-army chief.
“I hope they can offset negativity and ensure transparency conducting projects. The concern may then remain only on whether projects are viable or not,” Anupong said.
During the lower house reading last week, a member of the opposition Move Forward Party expressed concern that the packages would lead to corruption and benefit specific groups rather than people, according to the Agence France-Presse news service.
In addition, a political analyst said he was disappointed that the government did not show a willingness to establish a house committee to monitor the spending.
“It is a pity that the [ruling] Palang Pracharat Party still has strong command in the parliament and objected the opposition’s proposal to have a house committee monitor the handling of the regime,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.