By BUSINESS REPORTERS
PRIME MINISTER General Prayut Chan-o-cha has demanded that government agencies review and improve the welfare cards project that was launched in October, which aims to support 11.2 million low-income Thais, an informed source says.
The Commerce Ministry and Krung Thai Bank (KTB) have been blamed for the slow installing of Electronic Data Capture (EDC) equipment at cooperatives across the country.
Prayut has asked key ministers – in Finance, Commerce, Transport, and Energy and related agencies – to review the project which is in its first three months of implementation. The welfare cards were introduced to support individuals whose annual income is below Bt100,000.
The money is intended to cover monthly spending on basic necessities such as food, cooking gas and transport.
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and PM’s Office Minister Suvit Maesincee, have been assigned to coordinate with related ministers and officials on several issues. This includes the next round of registrations, increasing the subsidy, expanding welfare coverage and increasing the number of shops where the cards can be used for goods.
Prayut also wants to impose measures that will prevent misuse of the cards or corruption. Somkid previously asked the Finance Ministry to consider more support for the poor who register under the welfare card scheme.
He suggested that agencies provide job training for people aged between 18-60 years old. The government is expected to announce a job training project and other additional assistance next month that will kick off early next year.
The Government Savings Bank (GSB), the Labour Ministry and Commerce Ministry will be responsible for arranging job training for people living in big cities.
For the poor who live up-country, GSB, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) have been instructed to introduce deposit and lending products for the poor. This would include a higher interest rate than market rate for deposits, while they will pay a lower rate for loans. The aim is to assist the poor to set up their own businesses.
Job training for farmers
Prayut also asked the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry and the Interior Ministry to fund job training or job creation for the low-income group. The Agriculture Ministry was also assigned to help farmers who suffer from lower prices for their products, by introducing new crops or alternative farming businesses.
Prayut wants ministries and related agencies to submit their plan to the Cabinet for approval soon.
An informed source at the BAAC said that after one month of card distribution, the bank has allocated 94 per cent of the cards to 6,160,000 eligible people who registered with the bank. About 300,000 have not yet shown up to receive their cards which must be picked up within a year.
Critics have said the welfare card project is not well designed. Somchai Jitsuchon, an economist at the Thailand Development Research Institute, said that those who have registered for a welfare card may not actually be poor. He said the number of poor, according to National Economic and Social Development Board data, is about 4-5 million.
As well, critics on social media have said the project would only benefit large shop owners as small operators do not have EDC machines which process the welfare cards.
Shops that receive welfare cards must be approved by the Commerce Ministry and installation of the EDC must be approved by the KTB.
A source in the BAAC said that the bank needs 589 EDC machines for its cooperative shops, but so far it has only 91.
The GSB says that so far it has distributed 2.6 million cards and 3 million people have registered.