House passes 2013 budget

The House of Representatives early Saturday morning voted 279 to 8, with 127 abstentions, to pass the government’s 2013 fiscal budget bill.

The passage followed three days of debate during which the opposition Democrats flayed the government for a lack of transparency in the highest-spending budget in history.

The government is proposing to spend 2.4 trillion baht in the 2013 fiscal year that begins on Oct 1.

Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong on Saturday thanked MPs for supporting the bill and promised to take into account their suggestions to ensure transparency in budget spending.

He said he believed the government was taking a prudent approach and would not spend beyond its means.

Democrat MP Korn Chatikavanij, a former finance minister, earlier criticised several aspects of the budget, including corporate income tax cuts that he said favoured big business.

Mr Korn expressed concern about the spending plan, noting that revenue was projected at 2.1 trillion baht. That would leave a deficit of 300 billion baht and the government would need to borrow to make up the shortfall.

The reduction in the corporate tax rate to 23% from 30% has been one of the centrepieces of Pheu Thai government policy. Mr Kittiratt has said that lower tax rates would make Thailand more competitive with other countries and help it attract more investment from domestic as well as foreign businesses.

However, Mr Korn said the government would lose about 150 billion baht in tax revenue as a result. "It is most likely that the government will collect more taxes from other [sources]," he said.

Mr Kittiratt defended the budget and said the total was only 20 billion baht higher than in fiscal 2012.

"The increased budget was set in line with essential spending. The government is confident it is following the fiscal policy prudently and the revenue set at 2.1 trillion will not make the public suffer," he said.

The opposition also raised suspicions about large sums of money for big-ticket public works intended for flood prevention.

The Democrats wanted to know how 30 billion baht of the 66 billion in emergency funds has been spent so far.

However, the government said those funds were not related to the 2013 budget as they had been approved in the 2012 budget, so they were not appropriate subjects for debate now.

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