6 June 2024

In an attempt to prevent corruption, pressure is mounting on the government from all sides of society to set up independent ad hoc committees to scrutinise its spending of the Bt1 trillion loan allocated for helping the economy recover from the virus pandemic.

Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, suggested the government set up a panel drawn from civil networks to monitor how the money is used and the transparency of its disbursement.

“They [civil networks] are not stakeholders [in the spending] so they can help ensure the money is spent in the most efficient way,” Mana said. The independent committee could work in parallel with an ad hoc panel to be set up by politicians in the House of Representatives, he added.  

“I am not saying there will be corruption in this project, but history shows that previous stimulus schemes have been plagued by graft. So, we should not be negligent this time,” he said.

Mana was referring to the Thai Khem Khaeng project, a Bt1.4-trillion economic stimulus programme imposed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in 2009-2010, and the Miyazawa Plan, a Bt53 billion loan from the Japanese government to boost the grassroots economy under Chuan Leekpai’s government in 1999.

In April this year, the Prayut government issued three executive decrees that empower it to borrow up to Bt1.9 trillion to help cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and people. The decrees, which mandate the country’s largest-ever loan programme, have triggered heavy criticism over how the money will be spent.

One of the decrees allows the government to borrow Bt1 trillion from last month to September next year. Of that amount, Bt600 billion will be spent on disease control measures and on financial aid for people affected by the lockdown measures. The remaining Bt400 billion will go to economic and social rehabilitation schemes.

It was the Bt400 billion allocation that drew most concern from MPs during the House debate on the three executive decrees late last month. The decree authorises a 10-member screening committee composed of state officials and experts, who will be appointed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, to approve projects proposed by government agencies. These projects will then be submitted to Cabinet for final approval.

The opposition Pheu Thai and Kao Klai parties, along with MPs from the coalition Bhumjaithai and Democrat parties, earlier filed separate motions for the House to vote on setting up an ad hoc committee to monitor the use of the loan money. The motions have been added to the agenda for the House meeting on Wednesday.

The government appears to have dismissed the suggestion, though, preferring to leave the job of scrutiny to existing inspection bodies such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, Anti-Money Laundering Office and the Auditor General. However, these agencies are not widely trusted by the public.

Mana said that though these agencies were authorised to scrutinise the spending, their ability to tackle corruption was crippled by cronyism or weak state mechanisms.

“If all concerned agencies agree that the loan money is necessary, they should allow a special and proactive mechanism to be formed to prevent corruption [in its spending],” said Mana.

Chaithawat Tulathon, secretary-general of opposition Kao Klai Party, said the public had largely lost its trust in the Prayut administration’s existing mechanisms to tackle graft. He cited the NACC, which recently cleared Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan of corruption for failing to declare his collection of multimillion-baht wristwatches.

Kao Klai proposed that an ad hoc committee be tasked with examining the Bt1 trillion loan project as well as the transfer of Bt88 billion from each ministry’s 2020 budget to a central fund to combat Covid-19 and rehabilitate the economy, and to scrutinise the efficiency of other government measures in tackling the deadly coronavirus.

The party also suggested the committee should be aided by a digital platform where agencies seeking loan money could report the objectives and progress of their projects.

Democrat Party deputy leader Ongart Klampaiboon said many of his party MPs had concerns about corruption because of the huge size of the loan and the absence of details on how the money would be spent.

Ongart also expressed concerns that state officials were empowered to propose projects that would also be screened by state officials, setting up possible conflicts of interest.

“If the government is sincere and honest, it should support the motion [seeking the formation of an ad hoc committee] to ensure transparency in using the money,” he added.

With pressure now growing from all sides of society, Ongart is hopeful that the government will acquiesce to the request that a special committee be formed.

By ThaiPBS World Political Desk