Thailand forges ahead with ‘digital wallet’ handout scheme, official says

By Thomson Reuters Mar 19, 2024 | 11:31 PM

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s government is forging ahead with a 500 billion baht ($13.9 billion) handout scheme and may still need to borrow to finance it, a deputy finance minister said on Wednesday.

Julapun Amornvivat made the remarks in parliament, which began a three-day debate on a 3.48 trillion baht ($96.5 billion) budget bill for the 2024 fiscal year, aimed at reviving Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

“We insist that it may be necessary to get a loan through a bill, but if there are any changes, we will probably seek approval from the members (of parliament) again,” he said. “But the project will definitely go ahead”.

The scheme would transfer 10,000 baht to 50 million Thais to spend in six months, but has been hounded by concerns over how it will be funded, with some experts calling it fiscally irresponsible.

Julapun also said the government hoped to achieve a balanced budget in an appropriate time.

The 2024 budget for the fiscal year ending September aims for a 9.3% rise in spending and a drop of 0.3% in the budget deficit to 693 billion baht from the previous year.

After the debate on the second and third readings of the budget, the budget will need further approval from the senate and the king.

The government has said the budget should be ready for use by early next month, delayed from the original start date of Oct. 1, 2023 due to prolonged political gridlock following a May election. A new government was formed in August.

($1 = 36.06 baht)

(Reporting by Orathai Sriring, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Satawasin Staporncharnchai; Editing by Martin Petty, Kanupriya Kapoor)