Watch out for budget graft

Watch out for budget graft

The harsh economic contraction as a result of the stringent lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus made it necessary for the Prayut Chan-o-cha government to inject an enormous sum of money into the economy through loans packages worth 1.9 trillion baht, while another 88 billion baht in the 2020 fiscal budget has been siphoned from state agencies for virus-related emergency needs.

More important still is the 3.3 trillion baht budget bill for the 2021 fiscal year which passed its first reading last week and will be further scrutinised in parliament.

This is a fiscal tool put in place by the Finance Ministry to stimulate the economy through state investment as the export and tourism sectors remain weak.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Prayut told the media that his cabinet had approved the first batch of projects, worth 100 billion baht, for rehabilitation and relief packages. A second batch, worth 300 billion baht, will follow suit.

It would be of great benefit if the budget is able to reach those in need, along with SMEs, and troubled businesses, without malpractice, graft or abuse.

What must be dropped are non-essential, routine projects proposed by bureaucrats that have nothing to with economic stimulus. To prevent wrongdoing, the public should be able to access all the information about those projects. That is the only way to ensure transparency.

Meanwhile, the public should keep an eye on the 2021 budget bill as it is scrutinised in the House. In Thai politics, budget scrutiny is also known as a bargaining process between government MPs and the opposition camps. It's not uncommon for politicians to have connections with local administrators, or local influential persons. Their relatives may, for example, run a construction firm that is waiting for a chance to tap the budget for projects approved by parliament.

Under such circumstances, MPs in the coalition camp have an advantage over their rivals. But in some cases both sides could make a deal, colluding in the budget scrutiny process to get a slice of the budget cake.

It's evident that a number of politicians tried to get a seat on the House panel which will scrutinise the budget as that position allows them to have a direct say in how the money is spent.

In past months, society has witnessed what is known as a "financial drought" for politicians, who came out and made a scene when party executives failed to take sufficient care of them. Hence, quite a few want to be House budget scrutiny members clearly with ill-intent.

But politicians should be aware the charter strictly prohibits vested interests in the budget process. Anyone wishing to make ill-gotten gains through the scrutiny process should take a look at the futsal construction scandal involving Palang Pracharath Party list MP Wirat Rattanasate, and his family, who were found guilty by the National Anti-Corruption Commission of siphoning money from the national budget to construct numerous fields across 19 provinces in the northeastern region.

It's time for politicians to practise the new normal, not take this opportunity to vie for a Covid-19 budget windfall. The opposition is also correct in criticising the 2021 budget for its heavy military spending which, despite cuts worth eight billion baht, still accounts for 220 billion baht of the total.

Further cuts should be made, so the government will have money to put to better use, like the 30-baht health coverage scheme or other projects that truly benefit the people.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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