MPs spar over budget debate
Ministers under orders to front up
The government and the opposition are flexing their muscles ahead of the upcoming budget debate that may end up with the dissolution of the House if the bill is not passed.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has told all cabinet ministers to attend the House meeting on the bill.
"They must be ready to answer questions at all times during the debate," he said.
According to Mr Wissanu, ministers who are also MPs can vote on the 2020 budget bill as outlined by the constitution, but they cannot vote for or against it they are currently subject to a no-confidence motion.
"As MPs they are allowed to vote on important laws concerning the public interest, but not while they are under scrutiny," he said.
Jirayu Huangsap, a Pheu Thai Party MP said although the 2017 constitution doesn't clearly prohibit MPs holding a cabinet position from participating in a House vote on a budget bill like in previous charters, he believes those MPs in the cabinet do not have the right to vote in this case.
Mr Wissanu stressed that if the House fails to pass the budget bill, then the entire government does not have the capacity to rule, which means the House should be dissolved and a new election called.
In response, Pheu Thai leader Sompong Amornvivat said it would be against the norm for ministers to vote on the issue they are being scrutinised on. However, he would talk to his party's MPs ahead of the budget bill debate on Oct 17 to make sure they are all on the same page.
"The opposition sees this as an important issue as [the money] will be used to benefit the people. We have to ask for details. If the government answers well, we won't say anything and we will let things go according to process," he said.
"But if talks on the budget bill fail, the PM must be held responsible," the Pheu Thai leader said.
He said he would ask all Pheu Thai MPs to stick to the party's resolution. "I have been an MP for 30 years, I've never seen any opposition [MP] voting for the government. If they disagreed, they would just stay still," he said.
Meanwhile, opposition chief whip Sutin Klangsang said he expected the debate on the budget bill to last for three days, as 60 MPs from the Pheu Thai Party have notified their intention to speak. Each will have six-seven minutes to speak.
The opposition whip is also looking into whether to allow independent opposition parties to use the time allotted for the main opposition party to speak, he said.
Separately, the Democrats said they are confident the budget bill for the 2020 fiscal year will sail through the House.
Democrat spokesman Ramet Rattanachaweng said he believed every MP will make constructive comments during the debate and focus mainly on how to ensure the budget allocation for the 2020 fiscal year will benefit the public as much as possible.
The Democrat Party is planning to meet on Tuesday to prepare for the budget bill deliberations. The bill will be tabled before the House for its first reading next Thursday, which could take up to three days. The second and third readings will likely take place in January.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon dismissed opposition claims that the budget requested by the armed forces is even higher than in the last fiscal year. Nikhom Bunwiset, the leader of Thai People Power Party, had argued the budget allocated to the Defence Ministry has been constantly rising since 2015.
"The Defence Ministry's budget was 190 billion baht in the 2015 fiscal year and the ministry is asking for 230 billion baht for the 2020 fiscal year -- a 50 billion baht increase," said Mr Nikhom.
Gen Prawit dismissed the claim, saying the budget allocated for the Defence Ministry has largely stayed the same.