Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he was confident the coalition parties, with 320 votes in the House, would support the passage of a bill seeking to borrow 500 billion baht to fund the government's 10,000-baht digital money handout scheme.
On board a flight to San Francisco late on Sunday night, the prime minister said the country needs the digital handout to stimulate the economy, which had grown only 1.9% annually over the past decade. Without substantial economic growth, the country could not attract foreign investment, he said.
Mr Srettha also said that the governor of the Bank of Thailand had recommended the government borrow to fund the digital wallet scheme.
He also responded to criticism from Sirikanya Tansakun, a deputy leader of the opposition Move Forward Party, who said that the handout will not materialise and may be rejected by parliament. “I am confident the government has the solid support of 320 votes in parliament [to ensure the passage of the loan bill],” Mr Srettha said.
He also said the scheme’s launch would be delayed as the government has to listen to feedback and review some criteria for recipients.
The handout will begin next May, three months later than planned, he said.
When asked if anything could derail the handout, Mr Srettha insisted the government had complied with the law, adding that the Council of State, which is the government’s legal advisory body, is expected to provide positive recommendations.
Prommin Lertsuridej, the prime minister’s secretary-general, on Monday denied reports that the Council of State’s secretary-general had disagreed with the government’s bill to borrow 500 billion baht to finance the handout during a meeting of the digital wallet policy committee last Friday.
“The secretary-general of the Council of State did not say he disagreed. He said he needed to be sure everything is in line with the law, and he will bring the matter up for discussion at a council meeting,” Dr Prommin said.
Activist Srisuwan Janya asked the Ombudsman on Mondayto seek a Constitutional Court ruling on the legality of the government’s plan to borrow 500 billion baht to fund the digital wallet handout.
Mr Srisuwan said the constitution and the State Fiscal and Financial Disciplines Act prohibited the government from passing a law for any borrowing for political gain or non-urgent issues.
The digital money handout was a key election policy of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, which heads the coalition government. Mr Srettha also announced it during the government’s policy statement to parliament.
Mr Srisuwan said not all Thais would receive the handout, but everyone would have to bear the cost through the repayment of the government’s planned borrowing.
Under the handout scheme, the digital currency will be offered to Thais aged 16 and older who earn less than 70,000 baht per month and have under 500,000 baht in bank deposits, he said.
Based on these criteria, an estimated 50 million people will be eligible — down from the 56 million who were intended originally.
People who earn more than 70,000 baht a month but have less than 500,000 baht in bank deposits will not be eligible. The same applies to those who earn less than 70,000 baht a month yet have over 500,000 baht in their accounts.
The money can only be used to buy food and consumer goods. It cannot be used to purchase online goods, cigarettes or liquor, cash vouchers and valuables like diamonds, gems or gold. It also cannot be used to pay off debts or cover water or electricity bills, fuel, natural gas or tuition fees.
The money must be spent in the district where the recipient’s home is registered. It cannot be transferred to other people or converted into cash.