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Julapun Amornvivat’s Digital Wallet Program Faces Scrutiny: A Deep Dive into Thailand’s Strategic Allocation

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Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat recently addressed an enthusiastic rally at the Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok, championing the much-discussed digital wallet program. The event, held in October last year, also saw Paopoom Rojanasakul, another deputy finance minister, closely following the proceedings. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

In an interesting twist this Wednesday, authorities declared that the recipients of the government’s 10,000-baht digital handout won’t be able to splash out on mobile phones, electrical appliances, or any electronic gadgets. According to Deputy Finance Minister Julapun, a government sub-committee had meticulously drafted a negative list of products that the digital cash couldn’t be spent on.

The rationale behind this seemingly restrictive move is rather forward-thinking. Minister Julapun explained that the government aims to channel the funds towards small local shops rather than the imposing aisles of massive department stores.

When quizzed about where the money for this generous handout was coming from, Minister Julapun shared some intriguing insights. The committee had decided to earmark just 80% to 90% of the colossal 500-billion-baht budget. This conservative allocation stems from past observations; studies by the Fiscal Policy Office had indicated that not every eligible person had availed themselves of the previous government’s co-payment stimulus.

This strategic budgeting could eliminate the need for loans from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC). “We might dodge the borrowing bullet,” he hinted, suggesting that the funds would instead be sourced from the 2024 and 2025 fiscal budgets, amounting to 160 billion and 280 billion baht, respectively.

“Even if all 50 million eligible folks sign up, the government is confident it can muster up the necessary funds,” reassured Minister Julapun.

The proposals hammered out in Wednesday’s meeting are now poised to journey up the approval chain. Next stop: the main committee overseeing the scheme, chaired by none other than Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. The prime committee convenes on Monday, and their verdict will then be whisked off to the cabinet for the final green light. If all goes according to plan, Mr. Srettha will unveil the start date, registration, and other intricate details on July 24.

As per Julapun’s timeline, the registration of eligible recipients should wrap up by September end, setting the stage for distribution in the last quarter of this year. The anticipation is palpable!

But it’s not all applause and hoorahs. The plan, championed as the Pheu Thai Party’s flagship policy in the 2023 election, has been met with stern disapproval from economists and a couple of former central bank governors. Their chief grumble? Fiscal irresponsibility.

Adding to the skepticism were legal qualms about the BAAC loan. Enter the government’s legal advisory body, the Council of State. Though a formal request for their opinion has yet to be tabled, as shared by their secretary-general Pakorn Nilprapunt, the conversation is very much alive and buzzing.

In this engaging saga of policy-making, budgets, and political maneuvering, all eyes are now on Prime Minister Srettha’s forthcoming announcement. Stay tuned for more captivating developments!

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