The government is scheduled to propose the 2-trillion-baht infrastructure borrowing bill to parliament on Thursday. If it is enacted, the government would have to service and repay the debt for about 50 years before the loans are fully repaid.
According to the government, about 80 per cent of the total borrowing would be invested in infrastructure and communications systems which would help the economy expand by 235 billion baht a year.
In principle, we fully agree and support the government's plan. The investment in infrastructure is essential, not only for economic expansion, but also for improving our quality of life.
At present, the road system is the only main transport and communications system of the country. Our rail system, except for the skytrain and subway train in Bangkok, is too old.
It takes us, for example, 13-14 hours to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which is about 700 kilometres away. A normal high-speed train can shorten the travel time to just four to five hours.
Despite the huge loan required for such an investment, the outcomes are likely to be worthwhile when economic expansion and people's quality of life are taken into account.
However, what concerns us, and also many academics and the opposition party, is the transparency of the projects involved and more importantly how the projects are to be executed.
In 1975, the government under the premiership of the late MR Kukrit Pramoj nationalised the bus system in Bangkok and established the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) to operate it. However, the authority was poorly managed and politicians were always meddling in it. As a result, the public ended up with a poor quality metropolitan bus system, and the BMTA racked up heavy losses.
The lesson here is the government must have a sensible idea about its priorities in a strategic sense.
In the past when traffic congestion became serious, instead of investing in mass transit systems, previous governments decided to invest in expressways, which only encouraged more private cars and worsened the traffic problem.
A high-speed train to enhance the efficiency of the country's logistics should be given a higher priority than a high-speed train to some provinces which are political bases of the government.
The public agrees in principle with the government's plan, but the government needs to explain to voters what projects it proposes, the potential benefits to the public and the country, the priority of various projects, the execution plans, how to borrow and repay the loans, the effects on taxpayers and most importantly, how to prevent politicians from making personal political gains from these projects and how to prevent corruption.
The debate in parliament must be broadcast live and all points must be explained clearly.
With its majority in the House, the government will get the bill endorsed easily, but that won't mean it will have a public mandate to borrow if it fails to convince voters that the projects will be transparent, that the administration has its priorities right and that the projects will be corruption-free.