Watchdog urges relief loan scrutiny

Watchdog urges relief loan scrutiny

B1tn spend 'could be open to corruption'

The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) has called on the government to set up an independent committee to audit the spending of the 1-trillion-baht relief programme to ensure transparency and prevent graft.

ACT chairman Pramon Sutivong said that he agrees with the relief package aimed at easing the coronavirus' economic toll, and acknowledged that some regulations may have to be waived so that it can reach people in need as soon as possible.

However, he emphasised that the loan must be spent transparently and subject to scrutiny.

"A lack of oversight over its spending could open the way for corruption," Mr Pramon said.

Last month the cabinet approved an executive decree to borrow 1 trillion baht, of which 600 billion is for financial aid and health-related plans for those whose jobs and businesses have been hit by the pandemic.

The remaining 400 billion baht is for economic and social rehabilitation through projects aimed at creating jobs, strengthening communities and building infrastructure.

The government has also launched another relief programme, with 500 billion baht in soft loans to small and medium-sized enterprises and 400 billion baht for the establishment of the Corporate Bond Stabilisation Fund to enhance liquidity and stabilise the financial market.

In particular, Mr Pramon said that the 400 billion baht for economic and social rehabilitation is the most worrying as it may be "open to corruption".

He suggested that the government set up an independent committee comprising accredited experts to audit the spending of the loan with the support of the Office of the Auditor-General.

"The government should also set up committees to screen projects, manage disbursement and scrutinise the spending," Mr Pramon said.

He added that the government must strictly enforce measures against corruption in state agencies, which were approved by the cabinet on March 27, 2018. The government should also set up a website to provide the public with information and regular updates on the spending of the loan.

"The government must carry out the relief package openly and transparently and allows the public to participate in the scrutiny and punish those involved in corruption swiftly without fear or favour. This will not only earn it the public trust, but also give Thailand an opportunity to improve its CPI [Corruption Perception Index] ranking," Mr Pramon said.

Thailand was ranked 101st in Transparency International's 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.

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