SUNDAY, April 14, 2024

Council of State ‘advises’ against loan bill for digital wallet scheme

Council of State ‘advises’ against loan bill for digital wallet scheme

The Council of State has given its opinion against the government’s plan to enact a 500-billion-baht loan bill for financing its digital wallet scheme, a source said.

The source from the Office of the Council of State said it would not be making public the advice, but it would let the government disclose the legal advisory council's opinion.

Any opinion of the Council of State is not binding on the administration, but generally the government heeds the advice.

According to the source, enacting a bill to borrow 500 billion baht to deal with what the government claimed to be an urgent economic situation would be self-contradictory.

The source said that according to the Council of State, if the situation were urgent, the government should enact an executive decree like previous administrations had done instead of enacting a bill that would take months to implement.

Current ruling coalition leader Pheu Thai had promised during its election campaign to hand out 10,000 baht to all Thais aged above 16 via a digital wallet.

Critics later warned that if the government enacted a bill to borrow 500 billion baht for the scheme, it would violate Article 53 of the 2018 State Fiscal and Financial Discipline Act.

The article stipulates that the government may seek off-budget loans or loans not covered by the law on public debt administration only in urgent situations requiring action to address critical problems when annual appropriations cannot be promptly fixed.

The Council of State does not see the current economic situation as serious for the government to enact a bill instead of an executive decree. It cited the example of the loan to handle the Covid-19 pandemic. It said the government at that time had issued an executive decree, not a bill.

According to the source, the borrowing of 500 billion baht to finance the digital wallet scheme might violate Article 140 of the Constitution as well.

The Council of State noted that Article 140 requires the government to offset any amount of loan it seeks outside the budget bill by providing an allocation in the next budget bill.

According to the Council of State, the Pheu Thai-led government would definitely be unable to provide up to 500 billion baht allocation in the fiscal 2025 budget bill to offset the digital wallet loan.