The government's massive injection of development funds into the lower Northeast is not a political quid pro quo for the regime to return to power after the next election, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insists.
Gen Prayut was speaking after chairing a mobile cabinet meeting in Buri Ram which approved in principle a total of 121 development projects for the lower northeastern provinces worth more than 20 billion baht proposed by the private sector.
The four lower northeastern provinces, collectively known as "Nakhonchaiburin", are Nakhon Ratchasima, Chaiyaphum, Surin and Buri Ram.
Gen Prayut said the purpose of the mobile cabinet trip to was not to give away a budget of more than 20 billion baht as previously speculated.
And Buri Ram might not get as much as 10 billion baht as Newin Chidchob, the veteran politician from the region and co-founder of the Bhumjaithai Party had requested, the prime minister said.
On Monday, Mr Newin announced before a crowd of about 30,000 people who gathered to welcome the prime minister at his Chang Arena football stadium that at least 10 billion baht would be allocated to Buri Ram after Gen Prayut visited the province.
Gen Prayut stressed Tuesday that the government needed to prioritise and implement proposed projects based on their urgency to ensure prudent budget spending.
The prime minister also reiterated that there was nothing political about the trip, but that since the country is now heading toward an election, many people have got the wrong impression that the visit was all about politics.
He said that while the government wanted to visit all provinces to listen to people, the administration did not simply intend to accede to requests from local people.
"I came here to consider projects that are in line with what the government envisages," he said.
The government has to concentrate on cost-effectiveness and efficiency in budget spending before approving any projects, the prime minister said.
The government needs to make prudent decisions about how its budget will be spent to achieve optimal efficiency, he added.
"If possible, I would like to give you everything. But our budget is limited. This is the difficulty that the government is facing," he said.
He added that the government cannot spend too much since it also needs budgetary reserves and that it does not want to invest too much using money from future budgets.
"Anything that is not suitable needs further discussion and must be adjusted. Everything must be approved by cabinet resolutions," Gen Prayut said.
Issara Somchai, a former Democrat MP, said that the visit of Gen Prayut to the two provinces definitely had political implications.
"It was a political pledge that after the election expected in February next year, the Bhumjaithai Party will support Gen Prayut to be prime minister and form a new government," he said.
He said Gen Prayut is acting more and more like a politician with each passing day and his words did not match his actions.
While Gen Prayut denied luring politicians to support him to return as prime minister after the election, his trip to Buri Ram was politically motivated, Mr Issara said.
Korkaew Pikulthong, a former Pheu Thai MP, said the cabinet's approval of development projects for the region was only meant to buy the loyalty of Mr Newin and the Bhumjaithai Party.
"It is a quid pro quo between them amid speculation of several former MPs being sucked [into the fold of the regime]," said Mr Korkaew, who is also a key figure in the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.
Gen Prayut vehemently denied the speculation.
"I did not sneak out to meet anyone personally," Gen Prayut said.
"I am seeking cooperation on national reform, to explain the national strategy... I do not want anything in return," Gen Prayut said.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Tuesday that the mobile cabinet meeting approved in principle proposals for development for five lower northeastern provinces put forward by the private sector in the region.
The proposals, which involve a total of 121 projects worth 20.7 billion baht, cover agriculture and water sources for agriculture, infrastructure, trade and investment and border trade, tourism, and improving the quality of life, Lt Gen Sansern said.
Of them, 40 projects worth about 1.01 billion baht can be implemented straight away while the remaining 44 worth 2.64 billion baht will get under way between 2019-2021, the spokesman said.
According to Isan Poll conducted by Khon Kaen University's Economics Faculty, the economy in the Northeast has been suffering from a continued slump.
The index for economy and trade in the region in the first quarter of 2018 stood at 88.7 points; in the third quarter of 2017 (73.7 points) and in the fourth quarter of 2017 (79.1 points).
An index level below 100 means that the situation has worsened.
The survey questioned 1,208 people in 20 northeastern provinces.