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Unleashing Unprecedented Fiscal Chaos? Inside Thailand’s Controversial 10,000-Baht Digital Giveaway!

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In the setting of the Pheu Thai Party headquarters, a rally took place last Tuesday, demonstrating support for the government’s proposed 10,000-baht digital money handout program. Complete with professionally printed signs and T-shirts, the intensity of their advocacy was palatable. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), as a watchdog of the government, has confirmed its close surveillance of this proposal. With an aim to broaden the scope of its examination, the anti-graft organisation is roping in more fiscal experts for the task. In a public communique disseminated on Friday, the NACC stipulated its responsibility of ensuring the project doesn’t devolve into a form of policy-based corruption, as flagged by some critics.

Though the exact blueprint of the scheme and its anticipated financial burden is unclear till now, it has set alarm bells ringing, particularly among the senators. Worries are afloat about the program potentially undermining the government’s treasury reserves. The NACC’s statement stressed its imperative to address these apprehensions and delve deeper into the project’s details.

A preliminary analysis was conducted on the digital money proposal based on the available data, inclusive of the government’s policy statement shared in parliament on Sept 11-12. The probe’s initiation stemmed from an invitation extended to Suwana Suwanjuta, a member of NACC, to participate in a Q&A discussion about the program hosted by the Senate on Oct 10.

Adding a new layer to the story, Rosana Rositrakul, a former senator, handed over a petition to the State Audit Office this Thursday. The petition urged for a thorough investigation and a temporary halt to the scheme, condemning its potential damaging impacts.

The government’s objective behind this venture is to gift 10,000 baht in digital money to every Thai national above 16 years through an app specifically developed for this purpose. Anticipated to cost an ambitious 560 billion baht, advocates argue that the scale could be adjusted to limit the benefit to those genuinely in need.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has optimistically proposed that the money’s subsequent spending could boost GDP growth to 5% in the following year while the hike in tax collection would set-off the program’s cost.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the likely future leader of the Pheu Thai Party, has advised beneficiaries to wait patiently for the program’s roll-out as the cabinet deliberates over its details. Her response came amidst the confession by Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat that a delay is expected in the launch of the program beyond its slated time of Feb 1, as necessary to ensure a secure system.

Sirikanya Tansakun, deputy leader of the Move Forward Party, reminded in a Twitter post that the digital wallet concept is not avant-garde at all. She cited a similar program in Japan in 1999, potentially providing the spark for the Pheu Thai Party’s proposal. Reflecting on a follow-up study’s revelation of the Japanese program’s minimal impact, she cautioned the government to reconsider their project.

Undeterred, Acting Democrat Party Jurin Laksanawisit proclaimed his intent to maintain his scrutiny through the House committee on economic development. His insistence stems from the government’s vague communication about the program’s operational parameters and its funding source.

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