Thai Parliament Passes $93 Billion Budget as Outlook Dims
(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s parliament approved the nation’s annual budget that seeks to ramp up spending on tackling the Covid-19 outbreak while slashing outlays for defense and education with the government revenue coming under pressure from a worsening growth outlook.
The 3.1 trillion baht ($93 billion) spending plan for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 received the backing of 257 lawmakers. A total of 189 voted against it and four abstained after a four-day debate, according to the results of a parliamentary voting on Sunday. The budget outlay is 5.8% less than the 3.29 trillion baht for this year and pegs the budget deficit at 700 billion baht.
The passage of the budget came amid growing criticism and public protests against the government’s handling of the pandemic, which saw cases surpass 1 million on Friday with fatalities nearing 9,000. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha and five other ministers are set to face no-confidence votes early next month with the opposition parties pressing for censure debates to highlight the government’s failure.
Outlays for various ministries, including defense, education and finance, were reduced to set aside more money to contain the outbreak and speed up economic recovery. Thailand’s central bank governor this week called for an additional 1 trillion baht in government spending to counter the blow to the economy from the pandemic.
A relentless surge of infections fueled by the more contagious delta variant has forced the government to extend strict curbs for regions that are home to more than 40% of Thailand’s population and make up over three quarters of its economy. Earlier this week, the nation’s main economic planning body cut this year’s growth forecast to a range of 0.7%-1.2%, down from 1.5%-2.5% predicted in May.
Thailand reported 19,014 new cases on Sunday, the lowest number of daily infections since Aug. 3, while the death toll was 233. Total cumulative infections rose to 1.05 million. The country has administered about 25.8 million vaccine doses, enough to cover about 18.5% of the population, according to the Bloomberg Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker.
The virus situation has been quite stable over the past week, Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, said Saturday. The government has approved a plan to procure 120 million vaccines next year to cover children and as booster shots. To that end, the nation has been in talks to import at least 50 million doses each from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, which would be second-generation if they are successfully developed in time.
Anti-government protesters have returned to the streets in near-daily gatherings in Bangkok in recent weeks to demand Prayuth’s resignation. They accuse the government of mismanaging containment efforts and the vaccination rollout, which has seen less than 8% of the population fully inoculated.
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