Legality of undrafted law remains unclear
The government has not yet sent a letter to the Council of State seeking advice on the legality of a bill that aims to borrow 500 billion baht to fund the 10,000-baht digital wallet scheme, the council’s secretary-general Pakorn Nilprapunt said.
This is in contrast to the remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, who said on Monday the loan bill is being vetted by the Council of State and will be returned to the government as soon as possible.
Speaking after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Mr Pakorn said he discussed the matter with Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat.
“I asked the minister when the letter would be sent to the Council of State, and the minister said he was looking into the matter,” Mr Pakorn said.
He explained that the government’s digital wallet policy committee instructed the Finance Ministry to ask the council whether the digital money handout would meet the requirements for a loan.
“It is just about making an inquiry. It does not go so far as to draw up a bill [seeking the loan]. When the inquiry is sent to us, the council will start its consideration.
“Everything is straightforward. If the scheme meets the requirements, the loan can then be sought and drawing up the [loan] bill will be the next step. If it doesn’t meet the conditions, [the loan] will not be allowed,” Mr Pakorn said.
“I asked the minister when the inquiry will be sent. I have been criticised for working slowly despite the inquiry not yet having reached me.
“The National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) is also waiting for an answer from us because they think we have already received the inquiry,” Mr Pakorn said.
Asked if there were other options should the loan bill not be allowed, he said the government would have to find a way by itself.
The Council of State’s task is to give advice on legal technicalities, but it is in no position to decide whether the country is in a crisis, he said.
The government is duty-bound to find information to back its argument that the economy is in bad shape and in need of economic stimulus, Mr Pakorn said.
Mr Phumtham’s remarks on Monday came as a fresh petition was lodged seeking to stop the controversial scheme, a key election manifesto pledge of Pheu Thai.
After a number of economists raised concerns over the hefty financial burden the handout scheme would likely create, critics remain doubtful about the legitimacy of the government’s claim that the 500 billion baht in spending is vital for tackling a crisis caused by a deep slump in people’s purchasing power.
“While those who have enough money may say the economy isn’t in a crisis, for others, like vendors, the weak buying power of their customers has long been at a critical point,” Mr Phumtham said.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on Tuesday he was not informed the inquiry had not yet been sent to the Council of State. “No one has criticised the council’s secretary-general,” he said.
A source at a meeting of Pheu Thai MPs said Mr Srettha stressed the scheme must go ahead.
Citing data from the NESDC, the prime minister said Thailand’s GDP in the third quarter stood at just 1.5%, lower than that of Vietnam and Malaysia (both 3%), the source said.
On Monday, political activist Srisuwan Janya submitted a petition asking the State Audit Office and State Audit Commission to examine the digital wallet scheme’s planned implementation and decide whether it is against the law on state financial and budgetary discipline.