Cash won't cure malaise

Cash won't cure malaise

Predicaments arising from the Covid-19 outbreak -- from face mask distribution issues to sluggish control measures and a controversial cash handout scheme -- have put the government in hot water, with a crisis of confidence looming on the horizon.

As the outbreak causes public panic and the shortage of masks remains unresolved, the government's economic team under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Friday instead came up with a 100-billion-baht stimulus package, which they hope will "cure" the ongoing economic malaise.

Thailand's economy has been hit hard by a number of internal and external factors. With tourism-related income accounting for 12% of GDP, the decline in international arrivals has dealt a heavy blow to the economy.

A large stimulus package is needed or the economy will likely plunge into a recession.

A cash handout is included among these measures, with the government planning to give away 1,000 baht to three groups of people for two months: low-income earners, farmers previously registered under the Chim Shop Chai campaign and independent workers.

Unfortunately, the choice of beneficiary groups is questionable, given a much larger part of the population is also affected by the outbreak.

It's true that cash handouts have been used as a part of economic stimulus measures in several countries in their efforts to ease the impact of the outbreak. But two of these, Singapore and Hong Kong, use age as a threshold for stimulus allocation, which is fairer on taxpayers.

In Thailand, there are doubts about the cash handout's effectiveness. Some economists have warned the giveaway may not boost the economy, because people may end up saving the money instead of spending it.

The package also appears to come at a bad time, as people are suffering from the government's poor handling of the outbreak which manifests in the shortage of face masks amid increased demand as a result of hoarding. While hospitals lack the necessary masks to protect their staff, many masks are being sold online at highly inflated prices.

Double standards in travel control measures have also caused worry.

Thai nationals travelling from "high-risk countries" are required to observe self-quarantine for at least 14 days, but foreigners who arrive on the same flights are allowed to travel freely if they pass an airport temperature check.

And some Thai workers who came from South Korea and Japan -- known as virus hotspots -- appear to have travelled across the country without observing self-quarantine.

To make matters worse, the government has begun soliciting public donations to help relieve the impact of Covid-19.

These, among other things, are making people angry.

In their view, the government is cheeky to ask for donations to hand out to other people. Why should they pay for the government's inefficiency and poor handling of the situation?

Although the administration emerged from the no-confidence censure unscathed, it has yet to win the public's confidence. Negative sentiment like this could be the start of a crisis.

The government has the wrong priorities and lacks the ability to clearly communicate with the people.

In light of the growing number of Covid-19 cases, the public expects effective measures which can tackle the shortage of face masks from the government, not mere cash giveaways.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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