Thailand digital wallet dilemma
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Thailand digital wallet dilemma

A warning from the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on the pitfalls of the 10,000-baht digital wallet scheme is not music to the ears of the Srettha government.

Even though the NACC is just a constitutional independent institution without authority to prevent the elected government from pursuing its electoral campaign vow, the Srettha Thavisin government should not take these recommendations and warnings for granted and carry on with the scheme as it sees fit.

Like it or not, the NACC's concerns over the cash handout should be considered as representative of taxpayers' questions.

If the government follows its plan to go on with the 500-billion-baht economic stimulus scheme, it should set the standard of accountability by addressing the many doubts about its fiscal impact.

It must also have safeguard measures and monitoring systems to ensure that the 500-billion-baht loan will be disbursed with transparency and be corruption-free, with benefits for the overall Thai economy and the general public -- not certain groups or investors as accused.

Lest we forget, during last year's election campaign, the Pheu Thai Party promised it would not borrow a baht to fund the scheme.

The party cooly pitched it as a stimulus tool rooted in the "helicopter money" model used in countries such as the US and Japan to inject large sums of cash into the economy to act like an "economic multiplier".

Under Pheu Thai's model, the injected cash from the one-time giveaway reportedly will be multiplied 4-5 times, eventually lifting GDP to 5% in a year as it spurs on economic activity.

Initially, the scheme was to give a digital wallet of 10,000 baht to all citizens aged 16 and older to spend within six months in shops within a four-kilometre radius of where they live.

But since then, the scheme has been watered down, with the Srettha government wavering and changing details.

For starters, the government now plans to borrow 500 billion baht to fund the scheme.

And from what was being touted as using "innovative blockchain" technology, it now appears the government might use the Pao Tang app -- a notorious app known for its many errors.

Desperate to soften criticism of the scheme, the recipients of the cash handout have also changed and will only go to "vulnerable" groups, leaving the economic stimulus morphing into something more like a welfare handout.

To justify its necessity to apply for a loan, it is disheartening to now see Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and key Pheu Thai figures tear the image of the Thai economy into shreds.

He and his ministers have been drumming narratives that the Thai economy is in crisis, and the malaise could get worse if the economy does not receive an economic stimulus -- as in the digital wallet.

Under Thai fiscal law, the government can only borrow more money when the country is in crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, large natural disasters such as the floods of 2011 and the "Tom Yum Kung" economic crisis in 1997.

The 10,000-baht digital wallet scheme has become a test for politicians who love to promise the moon during an election.

Now, the onus falls on the Pheu Thai Party to prove and show that its scheme is not just another populist gimmick to draw votes.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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