The government has hit back at the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) over claims that no one is likely to receive its 10,000 baht digital money giveaway as details of the scheme announced on Friday show the government is merely trying to back out of its handout promise.
"Don't expect others to always be just as you think they are. Don't politicise the government's honest intention and determination to improve the living standard of people, and stop confusing the public," Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin responded on X to criticism by MFP deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakun.
The government said it would seek to pass a bill allowing it to borrow 500 billion baht to fund the scheme. However, Ms Sirikanya said she thought authorities would find the bill unconstitutional and contrary to financial and budgetary discipline law. The measure wasn't urgent enough for the government to justify borrowing such a substantial amount of money, she said.
Pheu Thai Party spokesman Danuporn Punnakan on Saturday stressed the government's need to stimulate the economy by injecting money into the system to encourage spending at the grassroots level. The handout will cover people who are 16 years of age and older and who earn no more than 70,000 baht a month and with less than 500,000 baht in deposits in their bank accounts.
The government estimates there are around 4.8 million people who either earn more than 70,000 baht a month or have more than 500,000 baht in their savings accounts, leaving around 50 million people eligible for the handout. Previously there were estimated to around 54.8 people eligible.
Unlike Ms Sirikanya, the government sees the need to stimulate the economy as an urgent matter, especially now that buying power among the grassroots is low. The money which will be injected through the handout scheme will be distributed fairly to the grassroots, not to certain groups as some sides claimed, Mr Danuporn said.
"The MFP might not see this as an urgent need. But we, Pheu Thai MPs, are well aware that those people are having difficulties. And what the government is trying to do is raise public confidence, which is important for economic stimulation," he said.
As for concerns over financial and budgetary discipline, the government isn't working alone on this project, with the National Economic and Social Development Council and the Bank of Thailand supervising it. Various views were taken into account when the government revised its project before details were announced on Friday, he said.
They included calls to expand the area in which the digital money can be spent, which was initially set to be in a 4km radius only, and suggestions that the Paotang app should be used instead of developing a new digital wallet app, he said.
Political activist Srisuwan Janya, meanwhile, vowed to petition the Ombudsman to seek a ruling by the Constitutional Court on whether the government's plan to pass a borrowing bill to fund the handout scheme is constitutional and in line with financial and budgetary discipline or not. Unlike in the past when the government borrowed extra money to fund its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact, this policy could not be considered urgent, he said.
Pheu Thai will lose its power to negotiate with its coalition parties as soon as it submits the bill for deliberation as there will only be two options left if the bill is voted down -- the PM will have to resign or call the dissolution of the House, said Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, a former election commissioner.
Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), said the NACC will ask the government for detailed information about the scheme.
The public appears divided over the scheme. Among those who said they couldn't agree, Wandi Khaosanit, 60, an online lottery vendor in Chai Nat, said not all people who have more than 500,000 baht in their accounts are rich as the money could be the only asset they have saved their whole lives.
Somkit Didaeng, 56, a bamboo shoot seller in the province, said she didn't like the fact that the digital money can't be used to repay a debt. Many vendors in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, meanwhile, backed the project, even though they, too, were somewhat concerned about the financial burden the country will have bear as a result of the borrowing.