Academics and civic groups yesterday criticised the infrastructure loan bill for lacking public input, and the government for failing to get its priorities straight.
Sangsit Piriyarangsan, dean of the College of Social Innovation at Rangsit University, said the public must be allowed to monitor how funds are spent on the various projects.
The government could be in the hot seat if it fails to guarantee transparency in selecting bidders for the projects, Mr Sangsit said.
Also, projects such as the high-speed rail links to Nakhon Ratchasima and Hua Hin might not substantially increase the country's productivity, he said.
Mr Sangsit was among the speakers at a forum on the controversial bill held in Bangkok yesterday. The event was co-organised by the Green Politics group, Rangsit University, the Campaign for Popular Democracy and civic networks.
Pairoj Wongwipanant, former dean of Chulalongkorn University's Economics Faculty, said key information such as analysis of the cost-effectiveness of the transport projects was lacking.
There are real risks of losses from such enormous investments, and the government must reassess its priorities to see if having a high-speed train is an urgent policy, he said.
"It's like people's hands are bound. The government used its majority to push a few pages of the bill through," he said, referring to the lower House approval of the bill in its first reading on Friday night.
Tortrakul Yomnak, head of Engineers For Thai, an alliance of Thai engineers for good governance and transparency in state projects, said he was concerned about corruption associated with large projects. The amount of "loose change" from them would be staggering, he said.
Meanwhile, the first reading approval of the two trillion baht borrowing bill does not mean the end of the battle, former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij said.
On his Facebook page, the Democrat-list MP said he would contest the bill at every stage of deliberation in parliament.
"And even if it passes through parliament, I believe it is unconstitutional. The [infrastructure] investment is necessary, but it isn't an excuse for the government to seek loans without going through the normal process of budget making," he said.
Mr Korn also lashed out at Finance Minister Kittiratt na Ranong for compromising finance disciplines.
PM's Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn yesterday defended the borrowing plan during his appearance on the weekly broadcast of "Prime Minister Yingluck Meets the People" programme.
He said the government does not issue a "blank cheque" as accused by the opposition.
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- Writer: Penchan Charoensuthipan