Sea salt harvesting in Pak Thale, Phetchaburi, Thailand. The bulk of rural Thailand survives on a meagre income. Source: Wikimedia
Thailand’s junta has approved a one-time payout for low-income people in a desperate attempt to stimulate the kingdom’s feeble growth.
Thais who make less than 30,000 baht (US$846) a year would receive 3,000 baht (US$86), while citizens who earned 30,000 to 100,000 baht (US$2,821) a year would get 1,500 baht (US$42).
No date was set for implementation of the policy, which is reminiscent of the populist policies of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by the military in a 2006 crice oup.
The payments are earmarked for 5.8 million Thais, excluding rice farmers. They are instead due to benefit from a US$1.5 billion government subsidy paying them to temporarily store their produce so supplies and prices remain stable.
The cash handout plan was unveiled in conjunction with a free public transport scheme. Prayuth also pledged that the minimum wage would increase next year.
“Don’t think the government is just giving out free money,” military-appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said. “This is a way to support those of low-income in other professions other than farmers because I care for people of all professions.”
The rice subsidies have been criticised for being reminiscent of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra controversial policy, which led to her being tried for corruption. She has also been ordered to pay 35.7 billion baht (US$1 billion) for the policy’s alleged losses.
Growth has stagnated under military rule but Prayuth said he hoped the cash handouts would help stimulate the flagging economy, Asean’s second largest after Indonesia.
The junta promised to eliminate expensive farming subsidies used by the Thaksin governments it overthrew in 2006 and 2014, including a rice policy that cost billions. But contraction of the rural economy in 2015 has brought about the U-turn.
Prayuth said the authorities were planning additional measures to boost year-end spending and tourism as growth fell below forecasts in the last quarter.
The tourist measures include reduced visa fees until February and extensions for longer visas, from year to a decade.
“We want tourists to come to Thailand, especially during this high season,” Prayuth told the media.
Tourism accounts for around one-10th of Thailand’s GDP and has been an isolated success story for the post-2014 economy.
A Thai crackdown on cheap tour packages for Chinese tourists has led to fewer visitors from China, Thailand’s largest source of tourists.
Consumer spending has dropped since King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on October 13 as public entertainment was cancelled in the month after his death.