Covid-19 fund bill passes first reading
The House of Representatives on Thursday kicked off a debate on a bill seeking to transfer about 88 billion baht from the fiscal 2020 budgets of each ministry to a central fund to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and rehabilitate the economy.
The first reading was approved with 264 votes while four MPs rejected it, 185 MPs abstained and one MP failed to vote. Earlier, the opposition called on fellow MPs to reject the bill, saying it contained no detail about how the money would be spent and approving it would be tantamount to issuing a blank cheque to the prime minister.
Rewat Wisutwet, a Sereeruamthai Party list MP, criticised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for revising regulations to increase the spending limit from the central fund and urged the House not to allow it to happen. According to Dr Rewat, the budget transfer would be capped at 16 billion baht under the old regulations.
The opposition MP argued it was improper for the prime minister to raise the spending amount that he would himself manage, saying it could invite policy-oriented corruption.
Pheu Thai MP for Nan Cholnan Srikaew said the prime minister revised the regulation to accommodate himself, pointing out the central fund would be managed by the prime minister. Dr Cholnan said it was the fourth time that the government under Gen Prayut's leadership had sought budget transfers.
During the debate, Move Forward Party MP Amarat Chokepamitkul said the courts of justice, independent agencies, Office of the Attorney-General and parliament are institutions whose budget was not drawn to help fight Covid-19.
House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said parliament could allocate the money to contribute to the fight, but the Office of the Council of State said the budget from the agency could not be transferred.
After she insisted parliament should have looked for some ways to transfer the money, Mr Chuan warned the MP to keep the focus on the bill and not take advantage of the opportunity to criticise other agencies.
Gen Prayut defended the reallocation of budgets, saying the government was in need of money to implement programmes to help cushion the economic blow. He said the central fund would be used for Covid-19 mitigation efforts or the money returned for re-allocation.
On spending transparency and accountability, he said mechanism would be put in place to monitor the spending and legal action taken if corruption arises.