Thai parliament approves delayed budget for 2024


Pheu Thai's Srettha Thavisin attends a press conference, after Thailand's parliament voted in favour of his prime ministerial candidacy, in Bangkok, Thailand August 22, 2023. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa

BANGKOK: Thailand’s lower house passed a delayed 3.48 trillion baht budget bill for the 2024 fiscal year, aimed at reviving South-East Asia’s second-largest economy, currently the region’s laggard.

The 2024 budget for the fiscal year ending September aims for a 9.3% rise in spending and a drop of 0.3% in the budget deficit to 693 billion baht from the previous year.

The bill, which needs senate and royal approval before taking effect, is crucial to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s government as it tries to boost the economy, which he says is trailing peers due to high household debt and interest rates.

The government has said the budget should be ready for use by early next month, delayed from the original start date of Oct 1, 2023 due to prolonged political gridlock following a May election. The current government was formed in August.

The delay has slowed government spending, weighing on an economy Srettha describes as at a “critical” stage and in need of urgent stimulus measures and cuts in interest rates from a decade high of 2.5%, a stance the central bank has disagreed with.

The economy unexpectedly shrank in the final quarter of 2023, with full-year growth at 1.9%, slower than expected and less than the 2.5% growth in 2022.

The state planning agency has cut its 2024 growth outlook to between 2.2% and 3.2% from the 2.7%-3.7% earlier projected.

Of the spending approved in the budget after a three-day debate, about 718 billion baht will be for investment. It was backed by 298 lawmakers, with 166 against.

The budget will be used to support the economy, society and the people’s living, Srettha said after the voting.

He has said his government will forge ahead and deliver on its signature election campaign promise of a controversial 500 billion baht handout scheme to help boost growth. He has said, however, that it might be delayed.

The scheme entails 10,000 baht being distributed to 50 million Thais to spend in six months, but it has been hounded by concerns over how it will be funded, with some experts calling it inflationary and fiscally irresponsible. — Reuters

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