The government's 10,000-baht digital money handout may face delays of seven to eight months and a reduction in scope, as it will only cover the poor, according to a deputy minister of finance.
Following a meeting of a sub-committee overseeing the project implementation on Wednesday, Mr Julapun Amornvivat said on Thursday that the sub-committee recommended limiting the handout to 16 million people who have state welfare cards or individuals meeting specific wealth criteria based on income or savings.
If limited to the 16 million welfare cardholders, the scheme will cost the state 160 billion baht.
The sub-committee also suggested extending eligibility to those meeting specific salary or savings criteria.
Mr Julapun said if the handout excludes people earning more than 25,000 baht monthly or having at least 100,000 baht in deposits, the scheme will cover about 43 million people, costing approximately 430 billion baht.
An optional proposal by the sub-committee excluded individuals earning over 50,000 baht monthly or having savings exceeding 500,000 baht. In this scenario, the handout would cover 49 million recipients, costing the state 490 billion baht.
The government initially planned to distribute 10,000 baht worth of digital money to each Thai aged 16 years and over. The Pheu Thai Party, which leads the coalition government, had raised the handout as its key campaign policy.
But with 54.8 million people meeting the original condition, concerns arose about the significant burden of over 500 billion baht affecting the country's financial stability.
The sub-committee concluded that the handout scheme should be funded mainly by national budgets, about 100 billion baht annually, starting from the 2024 fiscal year. Under this condition, the scheme would be delayed for seven to eight months, pending approval of the 2024 national budget, Mr Julapun said.
Previously the government intended to hand out the digital money on Feb 1 next year.
The sub-committee will present its proposals on the scheme to the government committee supervising the project next week at the earliest, the deputy minister said.
He said the sub-committee scrapped its plan to fund the handout with money from Government Savings Bank (GSB) due to potential legal violations.
Krungthai Bank (KTB) would develop a new digital money handout system, allowing recipients to spend the digital money within their district but they would be required to start spending within six months of reception, Mr Julapun said.
Vendors capable of cashing the digital money would be subject to value-added, corporate income or personal income taxes, he said.
The deputy finance minister said that the handout project would effectively stimulate economy and contribute to the development of the country's digital infrastructure.
On Thursday, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Srettha Thavisin said he had received the proposals from the sub-committee.
The prime minister said he will discuss these proposals with relevant authorities, including the secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC).
"At this stage, I have not yet concluded whether or how the handout scheme would be downsized," said Mr Srettha. "To avoid confusion, I would like all the details of the project to be finalised before making an official announcement."