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Thai Government’s Digital Wallet Stimulus Plan Under Scrutiny

Sead Fadilpašić
Last updated: | 3 min read
Source: AdobeStock / kikujungboy

Has the Thai government’s plan to deposit money in citizens’ digital wallets received approval from the legal adviser? Depends on whom you’re asking.

The confusion began on Sunday. According to The Nation, the Council of State has given its opinion on the government’s scheme. It was against the legislation to distribute 500 billion baht ($14.3 billion) to all above the age of 16 via a digital wallet scheme.

The source said that enacting a bill to borrow this money in order to deal with an urgent economic situation, as the government calls it, would be self-contradictory.

The Council of State allegedly said that,

“If the situation were urgent, the government should enact an executive decree like previous administrations had done instead of enacting a bill that would take months to implement.”

The report will not be released to the public, said the Council. However, the government could disclose the opinion.

The Light Turned Green

Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat contradicted these reports on Monday.

Per the Bangkok Post, he claimed that the legal adviser gave the green light for Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s controversial stimulus program.

The Council argued that the government has the power to enact the bill for the cash stimulus scheme, he said.

On Tuesday, The Nation cited Julapun stating that the plan would start in May.

The Finance Ministry would report the Council’s opinion to the Cabinet on Tuesday, he said. The committee in charge of implementing the plan would hold a meeting within a week to determine the timeline.

Per Julapun,

“We’re confident we will go ahead with the scheme. I expect it will kick off on May 1.”

Notably, the Council of State advises the administration on legal matters. Its opinions are not binding, but the government commonly follows its advice.

No Greenlight Indication for Digital Wallet Scheme

Another report came out today, stating that Pakorn Nilprapunt, the Council of State secretary-general, “rejected claims that the government’s advisory board has given the go-ahead to legislation.”

Nilprapunt told reporters that the Council’s response to the Finance Ministry was confidential. Only the latter could disclose the details, he said, adding:

“However, it definitely does not contain any indication of a ‘greenlight’.”

The Council based its reply on a legal technicality only. It provides legal considerations, not opinions on economic matters.

More precisely, the council focused on Article 53 of the 2018 State Fiscal and Financial Discipline Act. It is up to the relevant agencies to determine whether the proposed 500 billion baht borrowing aligns with the conditions specified in this Article.

“If the ministry asks whether the government can enact a law to borrow money to resolve the country’s crises, we will say it can. But it will depend on the government to decide whether it should enact it as a bill or a decree, as both tools are law. That’s it, nothing more.”

Asked if an executive decree or a bill is a safer option, Pakorn argued that either is fine if the government adheres to the Financial Discipline Act.

Breaking the Law

Critics have long argued that the proposed plan would violate Article 53. It stipulated that the government may seek off-budget loans only in urgent situations.

However, Julapan claimed the Council said the bill could be enacted under Articles 53 and 57. The latter says borrowing under Article 53’s provision can be made for a project valuable for society.

Meanwhile, Senate members are gathering signatures, another article stated.

They want the government to answer questions, including whether the digital wallet scheme would break the law and if an economic crisis existed to warrant the 500 billion baht borrowing needed to fund the digital wallet plan.