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Digital money handout to be delayed

The government cannot hand out 10,000 baht in digital money to people on Feb 1 as planned earlier because it will take longer to develop a secure system, according to Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat.

“It needs maximum security but I can confirm that we will finish it for the handout to start within the first quarter of next year,” he said on Thursday.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had earlier set Feb 1 as the start date for the programme, the centrepiece of the Pheu Thai Party’s plan to revive the economy.

“The prime minister instructed us to be ready to hand out the money by Feb 1, but I am ready to tell him that we cannot make it because we must take time to develop a stable and secure system. We cannot trade the system for time,” said Mr Julapun, who is also a Pheu Thai MP for Chiang Rai.

He also acknowledged that a sub-committee working on the sources of money for the programme could not reach a conclusion on Thursday. It will meet again on Tuesday.

The Srettha government plans to hand out 10,000 baht in digital money to every Thai aged 16 years and over, at an estimated cost of 548 billion baht. Distribution could be done through a new “super app”, the government has said.

Mr Srettha has said that the multiplier effect of increased consumption spending could help the economy grow by up to 5% next year. Increased tax revenue from economic activity would help to partly pay for the scheme, he maintains.

But a growing number of economists, including two former Bank of Thailand governors, have said the policy presents too big a risk to the economy at a time when public debt is testing acceptable limits.

One idea floated by the government is for money to support the scheme to come from borrowing by various state entities, in such a way that the sum would not be counted as public debt.

Many critics have said that the money should be given only to those who really need it, and the government has acknowledged that the scheme might be revised to exclude the rich.

State auditor asked to step in

In a related development, former senator Rosana Rositrakul on Thursday filed a petition with the State Audit Office (SAO), asking it to scrutinise and suspend the digital wallet scheme, saying it is potentially damaging.

She said that under the State Audit Act of 2018, if the scheme is found to contravene the constitution and related laws or cause damage to the monetary and fiscal systems, the State Audit Commission president can invite the heads of the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission to jointly scrutinise it.

If at least two of of the three agency chiefs agree the scheme is too risky, they can ask the House of Representatives and the Senate to put the brakes on it, she said.

Ms Rosana said her petition made six key points:

The scheme is unworthyIt is against the Currency ActIt can cause unnecessary financial burdens to the countryIt evades the principle of state budget spendingIt involves public debt concealmentIt is against Section 9 of the State Fiscal Discipline Act of 2018.

“The 10,000-baht digital wallet scheme can be compared to the rice-pledging scheme of the Yingluck Shinawatra government which resulted in several cabinet ministers being jailed,” said Ms Rosana.

“But that was useless because we lost our money. I, as a taxpayer, am doing the duty of a citizen in calling for concerned organisations to look into this matter.”

House committee hears views

The House Economic Development Committee, meanwhile, on Thursday heard the views of a Bank of Thailand official and others about the merits of the handout.

Daranee Saeju, assistant governor for payment systems policy and financial consumer protection at the central bank, noted that the main goal of the handout is to spur consumption. But in the central bank’s view, it is not necessary to do so as consumption in the private sector is growing and the labour market is also recovering. She said the policy might not be worthwhile.

Move Forward Party MP Sithipol Wibulthanakul, chairman of the committee, said a representative of the Finance Ministry was unable to provide the committee with details on where the money for the programme would come from.

Mr Sithipol said he wanted the government to take into consideration the pros and cons of the scheme, sources of money and possible short- and long-term impacts on the economy.

Commentary: Better options for a cash handout

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