Public health 'needs more financing'

Public health 'needs more financing'

PM defends use of B500bn loan decree

Shoppers browse merchandise at a shop at Lalai Sap Market on Silom Road on Monday, where businesses have reopened after a week-long closure prompted by the detection of several Covid-19 infections. (Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool)
Shoppers browse merchandise at a shop at Lalai Sap Market on Silom Road on Monday, where businesses have reopened after a week-long closure prompted by the detection of several Covid-19 infections. (Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday defended an executive decree issued by him to borrow 500 billion baht to fund various Covid-19 projects, promising to allocate more money to cover public healthcare costs if need be.

Gen Prayut told the Senate that the government would provide further funds if the amount earmarked for healthcare was not enough to contain the pandemic.

Under the 500-billion-baht loan decree, about 30 billion baht was set aside to buy medical supplies, drugs, vaccine shots and run research and development initiatives for vaccines, he said.

About 300 billion baht was allocated to fund relief schemes for people across various sectors affected by Covid-19, he said. The rest was allocated to social and economic rehabilitation projects, he said.

Gen Prayut said due to the government's limited funds, it would have to make cuts to some Covid-19 schemes to save money for vaccine procurement initiatives.

He said the government always takes into account transparency, and defended the cabinet's decision to transfer wide administrative powers under 31 laws to him to handle the kingdom's third coronavirus wave.

Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith told the Senate that the remaining sum of the 1-trillion-baht loan approved last year was not enough to deal with the new waves of infections and mitigate their impact.

Of the total, 980 billion baht had been disbursed, and a spending plan involving 17.4 billion baht was pending a review by the Covid-19 project screening committee, he said.

He noted that the next phase of Covid-19 projects would focus on SMEs, to help them stay afloat and keep jobs. However, he said the government was allowed to adjust spending plans to reflect the situation.

Gen Prayut and Mr Arkhom were addressing senators' concern about the prolonged pandemic. Several senators asked if the government had contingency plans if the recovery efforts were hindered by new waves.

Senator Wisut Srisupan, chairman of a Senate finance committee, said the government had to streamline the disbursement of funds, noting that about 29% of funds had been disbursed.

"What plans does the government have if the 500 billion baht isn't enough due to the prolonged pandemic?"

Senator Chart-udom Titthasiri, head of a Senate budgetary committee, voiced support for calls for the government to raise the public debt ceiling to 60%.

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