Amid a storm of criticism from specialists, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin defiantly confirmed on Friday that the Thai government is pushing ahead with its ambitious plan to grant every Thai citizen above 16 years old a digital wallet worth 10,000 baht. This bold move comes as a response to Bank of Thailand (BoT) Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput’s criticism of the economic stimulus strategy.
The unwavering prime minister reinforced that his ruling Pheu Thai Party was receptive to all advice and suggestions regarding the digital wallet initiative. He underscored the government’s dedication to seeing through the deployment of the digital wallet program to an estimated 56 million recipients, with the anticipated roll-out date earmarked for February 1st. Nevertheless, there remains a mystery surrounding the source of the proposed astronomical budget amounting to 560 billion baht (US$ 15,159,720,800).
Concerning voices have not been limited to BoT Governor’s office. Veerathai Santiprabhob, the former BoT governor, echoed his concerns on his Facebook page on Friday. He cautioned against short-lived populist policies of past governments that culminated in fiscal burdens and an ensuing negative backlash on the economy years later. Veerathai cited the rice price assurance program and the first car policy as pertinent examples, as indicated by Bangkok Post.
Consequently, he hypothesized that knee-jerk, GDP-centric maneuvers, perceived as band-aid solutions, could potentially blow up in the faces of Pheu Thai, diminishing their popularity ahead of the approaching election. Veerathai hinted that other state projects may face the chopping board under the financial strain posed by this high-priced initiative.
Adding to the resistance against the digital wallet policy, a collective of 99 economics experts has banded together, vehemently calling for the government to scrap the entire project. Their argument revolves around the thesis that the economy is currently on the upswing, with several analysts forecasting a growth rate of 2.8% this year and extending further to 3.5% in 2024.
In a joint declaration, the learned scholars, researchers, and professors of economics asserted that such cash giveaways could spark a surge in inflation and interest rates. They refuted the need for the government to stimulate personal consumption and instead argued for a focus on bolstering the public sector’s capacity for investment and export projects.
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