The government's nationwide initiative for debtors needing help to settle debts with their non-bank creditors received a lukewarm response on Friday as many appeared reluctant to sign up for assistance on the first day of registration.
The higher number of debtors registering online, though still lower than expected, suggested that many debt-strapped people were too embarrassed to come forward to register in person for help, according to several state officials handling yesterday's registration.
Four registration options are being offered until Feb 29, namely by registering online via the website debt.dopa.go.th, through the ThaiID mobile app, by calling the 1567 hotline number of the Ministry of Interior's Damrongdham Centre, at any district office nationwide, including Bangkok.
In Nakhon Ratchasima, only two people showed up for the registration at the Muang district office on Friday morning, while about 60 others registered online, said Natthaphat Phutsa, the district office chief.
The combined debt of these 62 people was about 2 million baht, he said, adding that no non-bank creditors in the province had registered for the debt settlement problem.
A 49-year-old petrol station cleaner who earns 9,000 baht a month and was one of the two people registering in person at the district office said she was struggling to pay the interest on 40,000 baht she borrowed three years ago during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She was forced to stop work for several months and didn't have enough money to pay for food and rent.
She is now repaying the debt with monthly instalments of 4,000 baht which is covering the payment of the 10%-per-month interest only, leaving the 40,000 baht principal the same.
The government is well aware that many debtors might not have the courage to come to register for help in person, and that is why online registration options are being offered as well, said Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
He said the programme won't write off the debts, but it will help people negotiate a fairer rate of interest.
At the end of the day, about 22,900 people registered, of which 21,001 people did so online, while only 1,089 people walked in for the service. The total debts were 935.31 million baht, according to the ministry.
In Ubon Ratchathani, Thotsaphon Kraiphan, a village head in Warin Chamrap district, said that even though he had assured debtors in his village they could register confidentially online for help instead of going to the district office in person, many appeared reluctant to do so.
They would have to disclose information about their creditors -- who are acquaintances or residents in the same community, he said.
In a way, these debtors were thankful for the easy loans offered to them during a time when they couldn't turn to anyone else for help, he said, adding that getting a loan from a formal financial institution was too complicated for many.
In Khon Kaen, Kritsada Thongbanthum, 58, said his debts spiralled from 10,000 baht eight months ago to 80,000 baht, as his business is not doing well and he had to keep seeking more loans from different creditors.