Tackling poverty tops ministry agenda

Tackling poverty tops ministry agenda

Finance chiefs also want balanced budget

A worker cleans the floor at Hua Lamphong railway station. The Finance Ministry has been tasked with finding measures to help welfare recipients escape poverty. CHANAT KATANYU
A worker cleans the floor at Hua Lamphong railway station. The Finance Ministry has been tasked with finding measures to help welfare recipients escape poverty. CHANAT KATANYU

Addressing poverty's root causes will remain high on the agenda of the Finance Ministry, which is seeking to balance the budget within five to 10 years, as Thailand's economic recovery gains speed, says a high-ranking official.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong have tasked the Finance Ministry with finding measures to help welfare recipients escape poverty, a cornerstone of the second phase of the welfare and subsidy scheme for the poor, said finance permanent secretary Somchai Sujjapongse.

He said the ministry has made some progress in including measures in the second phase and has discussed further steps with related ministries.

The second phase of the government's welfare scheme is slated to go before the cabinet next month, with implementation likely scheduled for January. There are 11.7 million recipients of the government's welfare and subsidy scheme this year.

Job training, access to financial sources and free internet access are expected to be parts of the second phase to help the poor earn more income and meet basic needs.

Mr Somchai agreed with former Bank of Thailand governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul's remarks that solving poverty is no easy task and must be done thoroughly.

The plan must be done in phases and will not necessarily result in all 11.4 million recipients of the government's welfare scheme being able to escape the poverty trap next year, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Somchai said it will be impossible to balance the budget in the next two years, adding the private sector should take over the government's role as the lead driver of growth after the economy gains traction.

He warned against maintaining budget deficits for an extended period, saying the government should reduce its role in revitalising the economy and shift its focus to the ease of doing business. Mr Somchai said while fiscal stimulus is still essential amid current economic circumstances, the Finance Ministry wants to signal it will work to reduce budget deficits and eventually strike a balance.

"We want to maintain fiscal discipline and we're trying to manage the government's spending with the utmost efficiency. What we can cut, we will, and we will access income sources where we can. We will stem all gaps," he said.

The Fiscal Policy Office predicted earlier the budget would be balanced between 2024-26. The Finance Ministry's think tank said last year it targets balancing the budget after running deficits for almost 20 years.

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