Is the government digging its own grave?
- Published: 5/07/2013 at 12:21 PM
- Online news:
There seems to be no stopping the government in its desperate attempt to push through its most ambitious project, the two trillion baht infrastructure development plan, despite warnings of a huge "trap" that may threaten the government's very survival.
This government has one especially bad trait – it always rejects out of hand any advice or suggestion, no matter how well intended, if it goes against the government’s policy interests, or comes from someone seen as being on the opposite side of the political divide.
Hence, all the suggestions and warnings about the downside of the rice pledging scheme and its potentially bad consequences from academics and economists, not just from the government's critics, have all been brushed contemptuously aside for the simple and myopic reason that they are seen as harbouring ill will toward the government.
I wonder whether the government will take any serious action at all to rid the scheme of the alleged massive corruption, even though the person in charge of handling the accounts, finance deputy permanent secretary Supa Piyajitti, recently disclosed in her testimony to a Senate committee that the scheme was plagued with corruption at every stage, beginning with the registration of farmers taking part, which was rigged with inflated figures.
"Show me the evidence!" was the response by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. That was all.
So when Khanit Na Nakhon, former attorney-general and head of the government-appointed Law Reform Committee, said the other day that the government bill providing for the raising of two trillion baht in off-budget loans to fund the infrastructure megaprojects might contravene Article 169 of the constitution, he was met with a chorus of resentment from leading Pheu Thai MPs.
Instead, he should be showered with flowers for his well-meant suggestion.
Deputy Interior Minister Pracha Prasopdee claimed Mr Khanit’s opinion was intended to block the megaprojects, while Mr Sa-nguan Pongmanee, a Lamphun MP, accused the Law Reform Committee chairman of overdoing his duty.
Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana insisted the loan bill was constitutional, claiming that previous governments had sought off-budget loans before to fund development projects. He also said that the loan funds were not the state’s own money and that the government could make use of them.
A vintage steam engine leaves Hua Lamphong station bound for Ayutthaya. The government's dream project plans a high-speed rail link, but the cost to the taxpaper is high. (Bangkok Post file photo)
If the off-budget borrowings are not state money, then what they are they? Does the money belong to Mr Pongthep, or the Pheu Thai MPs?
If that is the case, they should be held accountable for the use of the money, and taxpayers’ money should not be used to repay the loans.
The ambitious two trillion baht infrastructure development megaproject is far worse than the 350 billion baht water management project. There are no details about the various projects, just colourful catalogues and video clips meant for publicity. No public hearings, no feasibility, no accountability and no environment impact assessement studies whatsoever to determine the viability of the projects and their effects.
And the two trillion baht funding does not mean that the grandiose project plans will ever be completed. For instance, the northern route high-speed train project will only reach Phitsanulok, not Chiang Mai; the northeastern route will only extend to Nakhon Ratchasima; and the southern route will end at Hua Hin.
How much more money will have to be borrowed for the next phase of this dream project? How much more debt will the people be burdened with?
What we should know is that all of us, the taxpayers, will be in debt for the next 50 years - just to pay off the initial two trillion baht in off-budget borrowings and the interest. Will the person who initiated the megaproject and all the Pheu Thai MPs who have been pushing it so hard even live long enough to see that debt paid off. Probably not.
Mr Khanit cannot block the project. Nor can he stop the Pheu Thai MPs and their allies from ramming the loan bill through the parliament. He will gain nothing from his well-intended advice.
It is the Pheu Thai Party and the government which will lose in the end if the dream project is scuttled by the Constitution Court.
About the author
- Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor