Show where the cash goes

Show where the cash goes

After insisting the government has plenty of cash to splurge on Covid-19 relief schemes, the truth about how the state purse drying up has been revealed.

This came after the report about a new 700-billion-baht loan. Out of the blue, the cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft executive decree authorising the government to borrow an additional 700 billion baht to revitalise the battered economy and finance Covid-19 medical treatment. It came as the government has almost used up the previous 1-trillion-baht loan under the decree issued last year to ease the economic impact of the first round of Covid-19.

Some 30 billion baht will be used for procuring medical equipment and supplies to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Another 400 billion is to be spent on rehabilitating people affected by Covid, and 270 billion is for economic stimulus schemes.

With the new loan, its estimated that public debt at the end of September will be 9.38 trillion baht, or 58.6% of GDP, which is close to the fiscal sustainability threshold of 60%.

The ramifications of the colossal loan have not gone unnoticed by the public, opposition politicians and critics. Covid-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe and its impacts on the economy and society have been compared to those experienced during the two world wars. It's not only Thailand. Governments around the world are maxing out financial stimuli and borrowing to provide relief for their people. But it does not mean the government has a blank cheque to spend money without accountability. The people need to know exactly where all the money is being spent.

Critics and society are starting to worry about transparency in budget spending.

Their concerns are understandable. Every project created by the state seems to have a Covid-19 label. Every ministry seems to have their own Covid-related tasks and budgets. While it is good to see all the ministries working together to fight Covid, in terms of transparency, the public is being kept in the dark about how the money is spent. Meanwhile, stories about corruption in Covid-19 spending are all too familiar.

One glaring example was last year's cheating on daily allowances given to police manning Covid-19 checkpoints. Another involved exploiting the Rao Tiew Duay Kan (We Travel Together) tourism scheme.

Early this month, the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) announced irregularities in eight projects costing up to 13 billion baht.

This announcement came after the State Audit Office asked the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council at the end of April to examine eight projects using funds from the 1 trillion baht borrowed to tackle Covid-19 last year. They were being conducted by various ministries dealing with water rehabilitation, organic farming and local tourism.

In terms of budget spending, Covid-19 will require a plethora of public rehabilitation projects in the years to come. It is not far-fetched to assume the government may need to borrow money from international lenders. It is therefore vital that the government makes sure borrowed money is spent in a transparent manner.

A mechanism or even special committee involving public and civic groups as well as government officials and MPs is necessary to audit and monitor budget spending on Covid-19 programmes.

The pandemic has already brought the country to its knees. Don't make it worse by demoralising it further through blatant corruption under the guise of Covid-19 rehabilitation schemes.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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