End defence fund secrecy

End defence fund secrecy

The opposition's move to dig into the government's classified budget, funds which are free from scrutiny by the House of Representatives, deserves public support.

Pheu Thai, the main opposition party, said it is targeting this budget, which traditionally goes to defence and security-related projects. The party has appointed 15 members to a House budget review panel.

With shrinking revenue, the budget is being squeezed, prompting the Prayut Chan-o-cha government to acquire huge loans, including a loan of 700 billion baht for the 3.1-trillion-baht spending plan it unveiled for the 2022 fiscal year which starts this October.

Despite the need for thrift, the government has shown a reluctance to dispense with old habits of the past, including its insistence on maintaining an enormous classified budget.

Yutthapong Charassathien, deputy leader of the party, said the classified funds were not fleshed out. The Defence Ministry, including the three armed forces, gets the lion's share, with almost 900 million baht.

Other agencies also requested a share of funds, including the National Intelligence Agency (232 million baht), the Office of the National Security Council (50 million baht) and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (20 million baht).

Some ministries whose jobs have nothing to do with intelligence and security like the Prime Minister's Secretariat Office, Labour and Foreign Affairs Ministries also have asked for money from classified funds. Why?

In fact, successive governments have maintained such special budgets, citing the necessity of having such money on hand for security works that require disbursement flexibility.

But without providing details to the House, transparency is an issue. A lack of checks and balances means it's easy for governments to misuse the money for political gains.

This could be the case now the military has taken an active role in politics since the 2014 coup. There are particular concerns about the misuse of such money in dubious missions. For instance, there are suspicions the military has pursued controversial Information Operations (IO).

Former army chief Apirat Kongsompong once stressed the need for the military to equip itself with IO know-how to battle "new forms of security threats." But the military keeps denying it is up to any mischief. A few observers wonder if state agencies might use the funds to suppress the democracy movement or anyone else deemed to be a nuisance, or perhaps to discredit the opposition bloc.

During the budget review, the House budget panel must use all parliamentary mechanisms at its disposal to ensure the money allocated to security agencies goes to justifiable projects.

It must also ensure that ministries that have nothing to do with security explain why they deserve such special funds. Lastly, there must be no duplication.

As the Covid-19 crisis lingers on, people expect the Prayut government to spend its money wisely to better cope with the health threat and also ease its impacts through relief and stimulus packages. On top of that, there is an expectation of transparent budget use. It's unfortunate the government maintains the classified budget for inexplicable projects and activities.

Now it's up to the 72-member House budget review panel. It must stress cost benefit analysis in determining the budget allocations, and prevent the misuse of the money.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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