120-billion baht defence budget sails through the House after 3-hour debate
The Thai Government’s proposed 120 billion baht (~US$ 3.94Bn) defence budget for 2020 fiscal year sailed through its second and third readings in the House of Representatives late Wednesday night, after about three hours of debate. MPs from both sides of the House called for cuts in the amount of tax payer’s money being handed to the military.
The defence budget, which is stipulated in Section 8 of the budget bill, was passed by 247 votes to 195, with 11 abstentions.
The debate began at about 8.40pm, with Mr. Ruangkrai Likitwattana, a member of the House scrutiny committee representing the Pheu Thai party, proposing a 100% cut in the 120 billion baht funding. He claimed that the Defence Ministry Regulations Act B.E. 2551 (2008) was endorsed by the now defunct National Legislative Assembly by only 85 votes, constituting just one-third of all the NLA votes.
Citing a comment from the country’s auditor-general, that there were accounting errors in the disbursement of the military budget for the 2019 fiscal year, Ruangkrai said he wondered how the defence budget for 2020 fiscal year could have been approved.
Future Forward party-list MP Surachet Praweenwongwuthi proposed a cut of 22.5 billion baht, earmarked for the Navy’s procurement of two submarines from China, claiming that the previous government had approved the purchase of one boat two years ago.
He said that the Chinese submarine purchases are not a “buy two get one free” deal, as has been widely misunderstood, adding that the S-261 Yuan Class submarine is not suitable because its safe operating depth is at 60 metres, while the average depth of the Gulf is around 40-50 metres.
Another Future Forward party-list MP, Mr. Wirote Lakhana-adisorn, questioned the 14.9 billion baht budget allocated to new military recruits and proposed a 20.83% reduction, claiming that there is no need for the country to have so military personnel and, in any case, many of them end up being misused as errand boys for military officers.
“Generals should do the laundry themselves, instead of using the conscripts, and this will save up to 3.1 billion baht,” said Wirote.
Democrat MP Akkaradet Wongpitakrote proposed a 20% cut in the defence budget, which is slated to be transferred to the Office of Basic Education Commission and the Office of Vocational Education Commission.
Prachachart MP Sukarno Matha proposed a further 30% cut, citing the Government’s failure, over the past 16 years, to resolve the unrest in the Deep South, despite heavy and continuing loss of life among police and military personnel.
Thailand is not at war, he said, adding that more funds should be allocated for education, instead of defence.