Bud­get will en­trench power of mil­i­tary: stu­dent ac­tivists

The Nation - - FRONT PAGE - WICHIT CHAITRONG

IT TOOK law­mak­ers just three hours to ap­prove the Bt3-tril­lion bud­get for next year – and with all 206 leg­is­la­tors vot­ing in favour of the bill, an­a­lysts be­lieve the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment is stick­ing to its old school of thought.

Clearly the regime does not be­lieve in re­form and is more con­cerned with bol­ster­ing mil­i­tary power, they said. The deficit-cre­at­ing bud­get – gov­ern­ment rev­enue is es­ti­mated to be just Bt2.55 tril­lion – is dis­ap­point­ing to re­form­ers, as it ob­vi­ously aims to al­ter noth­ing in the sta­tus quo.

“The bud­get struc­ture has not changed, as this year’s spend­ing [choices] at Bt2.26 tril­lion still ac­counts for 75.4 per cent of the new bud­get,” Anu­sorn Ta­ma­jai, dean of Rangsit Univer­sity’s Eco­nomics Fac­ulty, said.

Spend­ing re­mains high for the salaries of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, which in­di­cates the sec­tor is still bloated and in­ef­fi­cient, when the au­thor­i­ties need to make it lean and fit for pur­pose.

The gov­ern­ment’s cap­i­tal spend­ing stands at just Bt660 bil­lion or 22 per cent of the bud­get, when “it should be in­creased to 30 to 40 per cent”, he said.

The gov­ern­ment’s spend­ing also re­flects the mil­i­tary’s tra­di­tional way of safe­guard­ing key in­sti­tu­tions with re­sis­tance to so­cial change. This is in­di­cated by the fact that a large bud­get por­tion – Bt 329.2 bil­lion or 11 per cent – will be spent on na­tional se­cu­rity.

Rangsi­man Rome, ac­tivist and Tham­masat law grad­u­ate, said that far too much has been ear­marked for na­tional de­fence for a coun­try not fac­ing the threat of war. There is also no trans­parency in spend­ing on se­cu­rity is­sues and this could mean the gov­ern­ment is us­ing tax­pay­ers’ money for its own po­lit­i­cal gains – such as lur­ing more politi­cians to its camp in prepa­ra­tion for the gen­eral elec­tion, he said.

The gov­ern­ment has also al­lo­cated Bt40 bil­lion to the Pracharat Projects, which aim to sup­port peo­ple par­tic­i­pa­tion, but this again could be a ploy to win po­lit­i­cal sup­port, he said.

The opac­ity of bud­get spend­ing on na­tional se­cu­rity has also raised ques­tions about cor­rup­tion in public spend­ing, as a large num­ber of law­mak­ers are mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, he said.

In­stead, he said, the gov­ern­ment should spend more to boost the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion.

“The Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry al­ready gets a large share of the bud­get, or Bt297.4 bil­lion, but this should be in­creased fur­ther,” he sug­gested.

Neti­wit Chotiphat­phaisal, a Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity’s stu­dent ac­tivist, said the De­fence Min­istry’s bud­get should be brought down to Bt117.7 bil­lion.

“The min­istry’s bud­get has been in­creased ev­ery year un­der the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, and the num­ber of Army draftees has also been ris­ing. The gov­ern­ment has been ex­pand­ing the mil­i­tary in order to rule by fear,” he said.

In­stead, he said, more funds should be al­lo­cated to public health, con­sid­er­ing the fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties faced by many state-run hos­pi­tals.

“Af­ter the elec­tions next year, the new gov­ern­ment will have to cor­rect the cur­rent regime’s mis­takes, oth­er­wise peo­ple will lose faith in politi­cians,” he said.

Tham­masat Univer­sity stu­dent Parit Chi­warak, who is also pres­i­dent of the Stu­dent Union of Thai­land, agreed that the funds ear­marked for the De­fence Min­istry should be cut and more spend­ing should be di­rected to­wards public wel­fare and ed­u­ca­tion.

He also ques­tioned the sud­den in­crease in funds for the In­te­rior Min­istry, which has said it needs more money to sup­port provin­cial de­vel­op­ment.

“I sus­pect the money may be used for boost­ing pop­u­lar­ity, as the elec­tion is ap­proach­ing,” he said. The ac­tivist also said more peo­ple should par­tic­i­pate in for­mu­lat­ing gov­ern­ment spend­ing in the fu­ture.

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