Red-tape mess making hard times harder

Red-tape mess making hard times harder

A hairdresser in my neighbourhood told me she didn't get the 5,000-baht cash handout she's entitled to. Frustrated, she has little, if any hope.

For those who know her, this self-employed, single mum who operates a small hairdressing shop was eligible for the relief scheme in every regard. Her job was suddenly suspended by City Hall to curb the spread of coronavirus, meaning she hasn't earned a single baht since April 4. Still, she has to pay rent, food, and utility bills for the family. The woman is depending on her savings. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out those savings are small. Even worse, she might be forced to turn to loan sharks, which will only make hard times harder.

But the state may find it difficult to verify her eligibility, or that of other self-employed people -- unlike those in the formal sector like office workers. To put in bluntly, she, like so many others, doesn't exist in state database. Nor is there any possibility that the state can feel her pain.

The simple fact is, the state database on people's employment is a mess. AI does not seem to have done much to untangle it. Far too many, despite their real agony, are being bluntly ignored by the system, designed by those who pull in a regular salary.

Another hairdresser said she had already been rejected by the AI as it wrongfully classified her as an entrepreneur. It's not clear how this mistake happened. But from news reports, there are people who were falsely categorised when they opened a bank account because there's no clear category for self-employed people like her or vendors in the system. Several self-employed people -- those running a small shop, no employees, or a market stall -- have been told by bank staff to tick the "entrepreneur" box instead.

We have also learned from news reports that some taxi drivers are categorised as farmers, because their names show up in the Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Ministry's registration system for one reason or the other (be it previous employment or a farming parent including them as part of the same household). In an case, they are ineligible for the assistance.

Since the cash-handout payment is based on a distorted database, it's a mess, which has resulted in the type of chaos we saw at the Finance Ministry on Tuesday.

Yesterday, permanent secretary for finance Prasong Poontaneat told the media that roughly 12 million people who registered for the cash-handout programme were "not qualified." He said those people "do not fall into any category".

Just like that sink in for a minute.

There are at least 27 million people who registered for the cash handouts, but the government said only 8-9 million people will get aid.

It is reported that 3.2 million people had received payment as of Thursday, with the first being made on April 8.

Mr Prasong said the ministry has required some six million registrants to provide more information for consideration. Two million of the registrants followed suit. He also said those who were disqualified can file an appeal and re-register for the scheme, starting on April 20.

It remains unclear how many more will get help after the appeal. What's clear is this: More people will be rejected if the Finance Ministry keeps using the existing database.

It's disappointing that more than three months after the virus hit the country, long after it was clear that a lockdown was inevitable, no plan for assistance had been drawn up beforehand (at least not before the state declared lockdown measures after the emergency decree). The red-tape-laden state relief process is sluggish, with so many people slipping through the cracks.

In one case, a woman was made homeless because she couldn't pay rent after she lost her job on account of the lockdown. Now she's sleeping on the streets. She told the media there are times when she wishes she would catch Covid-19.

"If I were in hospital, they would feed me some rice. They would not allow me to go hungry," the distraught woman told a TV crew.

How many people are stuck in a similar situation?

How many people who are in real trouble like the two hairdressers, despite these hard times, remain "non-existent" in the eyes of the state? If the Finance Ministry and the government want to help those in need, they must fix the system at once.

Covid-19 makes life hard, bureaucracy makes it harder.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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