Regime under fire as it rains cash on villagers

Regime under fire as it rains cash on villagers

Anupong says B30bn splurge 'not political'

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha officially launched the ambitious Thai Niyom Yangyuen (sustainable Thai-ism) development project on Feb 21 in Nakhon Pathom province. (Screen capture ThaiPBS)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha officially launched the ambitious Thai Niyom Yangyuen (sustainable Thai-ism) development project on Feb 21 in Nakhon Pathom province. (Screen capture ThaiPBS)

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government plans to inject 30 billion baht into more than 82,000 villages nationwide amid criticism it is aiming to score political points ahead of the general election that is expected next February.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda brushed aside such criticism Tuesday.

The money is a part of a supplementary budget of 150 billion baht approved in January by the cabinet to spur the grassroots economy. The bill on the supplementary budget will be put before the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) tomorrow for endorsement.

NLA whip spokesman Jate Siratharanon said the assembly will deliberate the bill tabled by the cabinet in three readings.

He said the bill requires urgent deliberation as it is essential to disburse funds that can spur investment and the economy in general under the government's Pracharath people-state partnership scheme.

Gen Anupong said that two-thirds of the 30 billion baht will be awarded to more than82,000 villages. They will be granted up to 300,000 baht each, Mr Jate said.

The Interior Minister rejected criticism that the money would be used to canvass support for a military-backed political party that is expected to be formed to contest the election.

Gen Anupong added that the economy has improved, although provincial economies are still not in good shape. He said the government is duty-bound to fix them and raise income levels.

He vowed the budget spending would be properly scrutinsied, with both civil and private sectors invited to take part. Each village committee will be directly responsible for budget disbursements without having to go through the Interior Ministry first, Gen Anupong said.

Another 2.5 billion baht will go to supporting the government's welfare and subsidy scheme for the underprivileged. Another 9 billion will be spent on developing the One Tambon One Product (Otop) programme, he said.

Gen Anupong said the budget spending would not duplicate the Thai Niyom Yangyuen (sustainable Thainess) development project.

On Jan 16, the cabinet approved a supplementary budget of 150 billion baht for this fiscal year, of which 50 billion will be paid back to treasury reserves and the remaining 100 billion earmarked to fund the second phase of the government's welfare and subsidy scheme for the poor, farm sector reform, tambon-level development and village funds.

Meanwhile, Gen Prayut will visit the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lamphu tomorrow to meet local people and follow up on efforts to tackle poverty there. He will also attend community forums under the Thai Niyom programme, with 300 local people expected.

Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat said an elected government would not be able to just allocate 30 billion baht to the Interior Ministry for such a project, as this would be forbidden in the run-up to an election.

"This government came to power in a special way, so it has free rein. But don't forget that this government came armed with a mission for national reform, so it should change or reform measures effected by previous governments that are seen as inappropriate," he said.

"But this government is doing things without any clear rules or regulations. As it remains unclear whether the regime leaders intend to enter politics after the election, such a project should not have been permitted," he said.

Korkaew Pikulthong, a key figure in the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, said the government claims it is chasing reform and opposes populism.

However, he said he has not seen any substantial reforms made so far. Moreover, the government has in fact resorted to populist measures, he added.

"Personally, I believe this policy is part of a political campaign. The tracks are being laid in advance in case [the current leaders] choose to come back and form a government after the election," he said.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Trakoon Meechai also expressed doubt about the legitimacy of the latest project.

"Former elected governments ... used similar methods in 2005 and 2006," he said.

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