Three weeks needed for grass-roots plan

Economic Measures
Three weeks needed for grass-roots plan
Erich Parpart

Finance Minister Sommai Phasee has asked for three weeks to come up with short-term measures to stimulate the grass-roots economy following Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha's order for ministries to create a package to help the poor during the current quarter.

Sommai said yesterday that three ministries - Finance, Agriculture and Cooperatives, and Transport - were currently working on ways to help the poor, even though the 2015 central budget was getting thin. He said that there was not much left in the Bt80-billion central budget after previous measures to help farmers, and that the government would therefore consider using some of the Bt100-billion central budget for fiscal year 2016 to come up with measures to assist low-income people this year.

"The prime minster has not approved the idea yet, but the Finance Ministry will propose that some of the central budget for 2016 could be used to help farmers and the poor [this year], since only some tens of thousands of baht are left in the 2015 central budget that the PM can use," he explained.

Sommai did not reveal how much the package would cost, but he did comment that while there were measures which would not require that much funding - such as a debt moratorium and lower taxes - that would be included in the package, these alone "are not enough to help the poor, we have to do more for them. This is not a populist policy, and let me think for three weeks about how to fund a package before introducing it to the Cabinet".

Meanwhile, the finance minister said at yesterday's "Australian PPP (public-private partnership) Experience" seminar, arranged by the State Enterprise Policy Office and the Institute of Research and Development for Public Enterprises, that the Finance Ministry would only absorb debt worth Bt80 billion-Bt90 billion from the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority if the state-run enterprise were to be privatised.

"The idea is that this situation should not continue. If we continue to publicly run the BMTA, the more losses there will be and the debt will increase, so the private sector should take over. The Superboard, along with the Transport Ministry and the prime minister, has agreed with the idea," he said.

Sommai explained that the private sector was much better than the public sector in terms of service, and that the government supported the PPP strategy, whereby the government laid down the infrastructure and the private sector handled the service part.

"Public-private partnership is the way forward. The government has to invest in infrastructure, but there are not enough time or funds to finance the planned mega-projects, and it is hard to find loans," he said. Another project that should be privatised is the Airport Rail Link, said the minister. There is a plan to extend the existing rail line to connect with Don Mueang International Airport in the future, and this investment should be undertaken as a PPP project, he said. Other government projects such as mass transit, double-track railway, intra-state roads, new airports, ports and power plants should also be undertaken on a PPP basis, he said.

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