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Bt2-tn loan bill chided in court

TESTIFYING on the government-backed Bt2-trillion borrowing bill to the Constitutional Court yesterday, four prominent economists expressed doubts or outright opposition to it, with some alleging that the bill was passed unconstitutionally by Parliament and would be detrimental to the country's budget discipline in the long run if it became law.

Four of the five economists testifying said the loan must be regarded as a state fund and should undergo mandatory regular budgetary management.

The bill, which was passed relying on an eight-page written proposal, stipulates that the spending of Bt2 trillion to upgrade the country's transport infrastructure could be made without parliamentary scrutiny, and future governments would only report the spending to Parliament.

Of the five economists speaking to the court, former finance minister Thanong Bidaya was the only one voicing support for the bill, saying the loan it authorised would not be a state fund, simply because the bill did not say so.

"It's an off-state-fund amount that the Finance and Transport ministries can spend without undergoing parliamentary scrutiny. They would only report the spending on the projects to the Parliament," he said.

The five economists provided additional and final statements to the charter court. The other four besides Thanong were former finance minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, deputy Finance Ministry permanent secretary Supa Piyajitti, a senior official of the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG), and a member of the now-defunct charter drafting committee.

The court is reviewing whether the bill adhered to constitutional principles under Articles 169 and 170, and whether the promulgation process was against Article 54 Paragraph 1, as alleged by its opponents.

It has set February 27 for closing statements by appointed Senator Khamnoon Sithisamarn, who represents the complainants, and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the accused.

The date for reading out the verdict will be set later.

OAG representative Patrachai Chuchury deemed the bill to fall under mandatory regulation as a state fund, regardless of a dubious Cabinet decision that the office was not to scrutinise projects that would be funded by the loan.

He said his office had the authority to scrutinise those projects and regulate the allocation of the money borrowed for them.


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