Dying from debt
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Dying from debt

The recent gruesome murder of a 10-year-old girl by her debt-ridden father in the northern province of Uttaradit raises doubts about the attempts of the Srettha Thavisin government to solve informal debt problems and related loopholes.

Mr Sitthanan, a single dad and former illegal overseas worker who was said to have been under pressure due to not being able to pay back his debts, slit the girl's wrists on Monday. He fled the scene but was arrested on Wednesday. Having confessed to the murder, the 25-year-old told police he had intended to take his own life after killing the girl but dared not.

He had reportedly worked illegally in a foreign country for a year but was deported to Thailand. He had massive debts, very likely from loan sharks, while seeking employment abroad and earning a meagre income as a rider for a courier firm.

One glaring fact from this tragedy is that state measures to help those with informal debts -- one of the policy highlights of the Srettha government -- left a man like Mr Sitthanan behind. There must be many, many more since it's known that numerous overseas workers, legal or illegal, have enormous debts from the employment-seeking process.

Another glaring fact is that indebtedness is the major reason why some Thai workers in Israel were reluctant to return to Thailand when the Hamas-Israel conflict flared up last year. They would rather risk their lives than return home to face the prospect of being jobless while heavily in debt.

Indeed, the Srettha government deserves some credit for recognising the problem of informal debt, which accounts for nearly half of all household debt, while treating it as a national agenda item when taking office last August. But there are questions about the programme's practicality.

Those seeking help are obliged to register with the Interior Ministry, which will be tasked with negotiating with debtors or loan sharks, while financial institutions are to help with refinancing. As the registration, which began on Dec 1, drew to a close on Feb 29, more than 153,400 people had registered with the programme.

Informal debt is really a tough issue. Dealing with loan sharks who resort to violence can be a nightmare. But some people, like independent professionals, including freelance or self-employed workers, who cannot seek loans from financial institutions, have no choice but to take out loans with soaring interest rates -- the beginning of their debt spiral.

More than a few indebted people, for instance, those who are too poor to have a bank account, are not eligible for this programme. In this case, refinancing banks or financial institutions can only give them advice on vocational improvement while their debts remain.

This explains why, while the number of people with debt is high, not many can get help. Figures released by the Financial Policy Office showed that, as of April 8, the programme, through the Government Savings Bank and Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, has assisted some 8,800 indebted people who sought informal loans, representing a total debt of 426.5 million baht.

The agencies tasked with handling informal debts must fix all of the loopholes and reach out to those in need. After all, the government must be aware that those assistance measures are just band-aids, and it has to do more, such as restructuring the economy and ensuring more people have access to resources to narrow inequality so that people like Mr Sitthanan will not be left behind.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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