PM insists cash splurge not populist as poll looms

PM insists cash splurge not populist as poll looms

Regime to dish out B63bn from December

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha appeared before the media after Tuesday's cabinet meeting to announce that the new 63 billion baht welfare programme is not a populist project. (Post Today photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha appeared before the media after Tuesday's cabinet meeting to announce that the new 63 billion baht welfare programme is not a populist project. (Post Today photo)

The government will plough 63 billion baht into cash handout packages aimed at assisting low-income earners, the elderly and retired officers but Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has urged both the public and the media not to view this as a populist move aimed at shoring up support ahead of the election.

The package includes a 500-baht cash handout that will be given as a New Year's gift to almost 15 million people worth a total of 7.25 billion baht.

Lavaron Sangsnit, director-general of the Fiscal Policy Office, said the packages, approved by the cabinet on Tuesday, could help boost economic growth by 0.07%.

The measures will be added to existing welfare measures for the 14.5 million low-income people in 8.2 million households who hold state welfare cards, he said.

Electricity bills up to 230 baht will be waived per household each month for cardholders, he said. Monthly water bills up to 100 baht will also be waived.

The measure will run from this December to next September, Mr Lavaron said. The total cost is expected to amount to 27 billion baht.

He said a one-time payout of 500 baht will be ushered in from next month and cardholders can use the money to buy goods through their cards, or cash it out. About 7.25 billion baht is expected to be used in this part of the scheme.

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said the measure is being presented as a New Year's gift.

The government will cover up to 1,000 baht of travel expenses next month for people aged 65 and older who are in need of medical treatment. This has been budgeted at 3.5 billion baht, with 3.5 million senior citizens due to take part.

Those aged 60 or above who rent a house will be given 400 baht a month between next month and September.

The measure will benefit up to 230,000 people and is estimated to cost 920 million baht, said Mr Apisak.

According to Mr Lavaron, the budget for these measures will mainly be drawn from the state-sponsored Pracharat Fund, which currently has 55 billion baht in its coffers.

Additional benefits will be provided for retired government officers on a pension.

Those currently receiving a monthly pension of less than 10,000 baht will be given another 10,000 baht.

Around 52,700 people could benefit from the scheme, which requires a budget of 558 million baht.

Gen Prayut said the money must be spent in line with the budgetary framework.

"This is what the next government must also pay attention to, otherwise budgetary spending may become unbalanced," the prime minister said.

"We are trying to speed up the process of rolling out these measures, but it is just a coincidence that they came out now," he said, speaking just a few months before the next general election that could see him ousted from power more than four years after catapulting himself to power via a bloodless coup.

"Please do not think this is politically motivated. It is a matter of continuity in terms of work," added the premier, who has hinted he may be interested in being democratically elected.

The cabinet also authorised the Government Housing Bank to proceed with its"One Million House" project. About 60 billion baht will be used for the associated loan programme.

Chatchai Sirilai, president of the housing bank, said a 50-billion-baht credit line will be offered to people who buy a residence worth up to 1 million baht.

Those who earn up to 25,000 baht a month will be given loans with a flat interest rate of 3% over the course of five years. Anyone who earns above that threshold would be eligible for loans with a 3% interest rate over three years.

Real estate developers who build houses worth up to 1 million baht will be entitled to a minimum loan rate (MLR) minus 1.25%. But the developers involved must have units worth up to 1 million baht account for at least 40% of their entire project.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said he has instructed the Finance Ministry to roll out the stimulus measures by next month.

Dr Somkid said the ministry is now mulling a series of year-end shopping tax breaks.

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