Rao Chana not good enough

The government's financial aid scheme Rao Chana (We Win), which was supposed to provide 7,000 baht in subsidies to pandemic-stricken citizens, has come under criticism for being inaccessible to the neediest and for not providing a cash handout.

Only one bank -- Krung Thai -- has been selected to handle offline registrations for the programme which opened nationwide last Monday. The resulting massive queues have left many people unable to register as the bank accepted only a few applicants a day.

In the past week, we saw TV footage of an elderly woman weeping after being yelled at by a bank teller in Nonthaburi. Another heartfelt footage featured a partially blind elderly woman sharing a simple meal of plain rice with her adult son while waiting in a long line in Kamphaeng Phet province, leading netizens to donate 6 million baht to the family.

We can be happy for this family but know that few will be this lucky. There are too many people in desperate need of assistance who will remain on the outside looking in. The registration process itself is mind-boggling unsafe during a pandemic. People who are already vulnerable are being forced to take further risks by queuing up in crowded conditions, not to mention the burden this has put on understaffed bank personnel. Our people deserve better than this.

Like many, I have concerns regarding the latest announcement about the Rao Chana programme, in which 7,000 baht will be provided to 31 million people over two months. The plan drew immediate criticism on social media for its complexity and limited coverage. Many found it hard to meet the annual income and bank savings criteria (those with an annual income exceeding 300,000 baht and savings of more than 500,000 baht as of Dec 31 will not qualify).

I understand that by taking this measure, the government does not want people in good standing to have the same opportunity to receive such assistance. While I believe the government has good intentions, its method isn't practical. The complicated procedure of eschewing cash and paying for goods through an application creates a burden and causes difficulties for people already living on the margins. This complicated restrictive system inhibits people from circulating cash in the local economy or from accessing money during an emergency. In trying to control people from spending the cash unwisely, the government has placed an unfair burden on the poor.

Let's hope the government will augment the programme and make it more accessible to those in need. Our citizens have barely recovered from the first wave and lockdown so they deserve a government programme that addresses the needs of the vulnerable.

Tatat Bunnag is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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