Handout scheme ‘unlikely’ to start in May
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Handout scheme ‘unlikely’ to start in May

Minister says digital wallet rollout faces another delay, with no new timeline given

People purchase grocery items at a fresh market in the Rangsit area of Bangkok. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
People purchase grocery items at a fresh market in the Rangsit area of Bangkok. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

The government is set to delay the launch of a controversial 500-billion-baht digital wallet handout scheme until after May, in a setback for Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who has been touting the policy as essential in boosting a sluggish economy.

"Today, looking at the timeframe, it's unlikely for May," Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat said on Wednesday, without specifying a new timeline.

While the government insists it will move ahead with the project, Mr Julapun said there was no backup plan if the scheme could not go ahead.

The programme, originally slated for February and delayed to May, has been the subject of concerns over how it will be funded, with some experts calling it fiscally irresponsible.

The government has insisted the scheme, which would transfer 10,000 baht each to 50 million Thai citizens via a mobile application to spend in their local communities, would be managed carefully through cascaded borrowing.

It has also been cleared by the Council opf State, the government's legal adviser, which said that borrowing 500 billion baht to fund the programme would not breach fiscal discipline laws.

Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat now says the digital wallet start date is "unlikely for May". (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The latest delay comes as the government and the Bank of Thailand (BoT) trade barbs over how to revive Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy, which has been lagging regional peers for a decade.

Earlier this week, amid calls from Mr Srettha and his government to lower borrowing costs, the BoT said adjusting interest rates could not be a "quick fix" for an economy that is weighed down by external factors like weak demand for its exports.

The government wants to boost economic growth to an average of 5% over four years, as Thailand trails regional peers with growth forecast at 2.4% last year, short of the 2022 figure.

The digital wallet was a key election campaign policy of the ruling Pheu Thai Party. It is core among a raft of stimulus measures that Mr Srettha's government has promised, including debt suspension for farmers and a minimum wage hike. 

The money from the digital wallet scheme can only be used for food and consumer goods. It cannot be used to buy online goods, cigarettes or liquor, cash vouchers and valuables like diamonds, gems or gold. 

It also cannot be used to pay off debts or cover water or electricity bills, fuel, natural gas or tuition fees. The money must be spent in the district where the recipient's home is registered.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has recently warned the government of possible illegalities in its planned digital wallet handout.

(The baht is valued at 35.60 per US dollar as of Wednesday afternoon)

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