Srettha clears morning schedule to defend digital wallet scheme


Premier says he attended the House meeting because he did not want the opposition to think he was avoiding their questions

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin cleared his schedule on Thursday morning, so he could personally answer the opposition Move Forward Party’s questions on his government’s digital wallet scheme.

The premier informed the House that he would attend the meeting after he learned on Wednesday that Move Forward’s deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakum would submit an interpellation enquiring about the digital handout.

At the meeting, Sirikanya raised three questions on the scheme, but in his lengthy 15-minute-long answers, Srettha was seen as sidestepping the questions. Observers said he spent most of the time describing the state of the country’s economy and justifying his government’s plan to implement the 10,000-baht handout.

The Move Forward MP’s first question was based on Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat’s announcement on Wednesday that the government has scaled down the budget for the scheme from 500 billion baht to 450 billion baht. Julapun had also said that the government would cancel its plan to take 170 billion baht from the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.

Instead, he said, the government will “manage” the budget to get 43 billion baht from fiscal 2024 and 132.3 billion baht from fiscal 2025 budgets to finance the scaled-down scheme.

In the question, Sirikanya asked Srettha to explain where he would get another 50 billion baht if all 50 million eligible recipients registered instead of 45 million as predicted by the government.

She also asked the premier to explain what “management” will be done to get 43 billion baht and 132.3 billion baht from the two fiscal year budgets. Sirikanya also asked if this meant that the government would use the central emergency fund to finance the budget shortfalls.

She then ended her question, saying Srettha will possibly explain the details when he announces the scheme on July 24 as scheduled.

Standing up to answer, Srettha admitted that people will have to wait until all the details can be announced official on July 24 as some minor points were waiting to be fixed.

Admitting that the 43 billion baht would have to be “managed” from the national budget for fiscal 2024, Srettha chose not to say anything about the 132.3 billion baht that is to be taken from the following year’s budget.

He also expressed confidence that 450 billion baht will be enough to finance the scheme, saying the budget is based on previous statistics that show that no more than 90% of eligible recipients participate in government economic stimulus projects.

“We are confident that we will have more details on July 24,” the premier said.

In her second question, Sirikanya then asked what Srettha plans to do to tackle people’s economic woes now that inflation and living costs have risen and many small factories have closed down.

“I want to ask the government if it has any plans to address the economic woes without having the citizens wait for the digital wallet scheme,” she asked.

In his response, Srettha said his government has been using the central budget to address several economic issues, such as subsidising petrol and electricity prices and helping farmers.

However, he said he would have to find more details to make an official announcement about the money being taken from the central budget to help the people.

As for the closure of factories, he said this had happened because the economy has been stagnating for 10 years now and this is why the digital wallet scheme is necessary to revive the economy.

After listening to Srettha explain the bad state of the economy for more than 10 minutes, Sirikanya said she had no choice but to conclude that the government did not have any measures to deal with the rising cost of living or the closure of factories.

In her third question, Sirikanya asked about the Interior Ministry’s plan to increase the ratio of foreign condo ownership to 75% and property leasehold to 99 years. She said this plan affected Thais because properties would become too expensive for them to afford.

“So what will Thais get from these measures? What good will they do to the economy?” she asked.

Srettha responded that the measures were still being studied and had not been finalised yet. He added that if studies show that they will do more harm than good to the country, then the government will not implement them.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Srettha said that he had cleared his morning schedule because he was afraid that the opposition would be upset if he did not show up to answer their questions.