By THE NATION
THE government’s Bt2.9-trillion budget for 2018 has massive spending of Bt575 billion for upgrading workers’ skills and education, plus related activities, while the Defence Ministry’s budget rises Bt8.8 billion to Bt222 billion.
Under the 2018 Budget Bill, passed in its first reading by the National Legislative Assembly yesterday, money allocated for tackling unrest in the country’s deep South also continued to rise to a total of about Bt13 billion. Meanwhile, the Navy is expected to get extra money to pay for its first Chinese-made submarine, worth Bt13.5 billion over a period of seven years.
The controversial submarine acquisition programme is estimated to be worth a total of Bt36 billion for three vessels to be delivered over a decade.
Besides human resource development and related activities, the budget for the 2018 fiscal year, starting on October 1, includes huge spending of Bt476 billion for national competitiveness and related schemes, while poverty reduction programmes and related expenditure will get Bt332 billion.
Bt273 billion is earmarked for security and related activities, while water resources, environmental protection and related spending will amount to Bt125 billion.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the budget was not formulated to prolong the military’s grip on power but it would allow the implementing of the national reform agenda.
That includes reducing social injustice and economic inequality as the economy is projected to grow 3.3 to 4.3 per cent in 2018.
Revenue collection is projected to total Bt2.45 trillion, resulting in a budget deficit of Bt450 billion. That means the government will have to borrow funds to cover the shortfall.
There are also plans to increase tax revenue, including the introduction of a new land and building tax, which is being considered by the NLA.
Earlier, the government also floated the idea of hiking the value-added tax rate from the current 7 per cent, but opponents said the timing was not suitable as the country’s economic growth rate is not yet favourable.
Overall, the Bt2.9-trillion budget bill for fiscal 2018 is relatively modest, including fixed expenditure of Bt2.15 trillion, investment projects worth Bt650 billion and public debt repayment of Bt86.9 billion. According to the premier, treasury reserves amounted to Bt182 billion as of May 26 this |year.
He said the budget for national security included spending on protecting key national institutions, national and political reconciliation, and solving prolonged insurgency problems in the far South.
Another key strategy is to increase competitiveness in manufacturing and industrial areas with a focus on helping small and medium enterprises and developing special economic zones.
The government will spend the most resources in education, healthcare, people’s skill development and related activities.
To reduce income inequality, the government will also spend significantly to boost the grassroots and rural economy, while providing welfare to people whose income is below the poverty line. In addition, Bt125 billion is earmarked for environmental protection, water resources management and related activities.