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'Show us the money!'

Up to 10,000 officials from three key local administrative bodies gather outside the Education Ministry yesterday to rally for a larger budget allocation.

Up to 10,000 officials from three key local administrative bodies gather outside the Education Ministry yesterday to rally for a larger budget allocation.

Local bodies demand Bt57 bn in total funding

Leaders of the three key local administrative bodies have threatened to step up protests if their demands for the government to review the 2014 fiscal budget and provide them with 30 per cent of its income - or at least Bt57 billion - are not met.

Heads and members of the National Municipal League of Thailand, associations of Provincial Administrative Organisations (PAOs) and Tambon Administrative Organ-isations (TAOs) - were not satisfied when the government turned a deaf ear to their demand for more funds after a rally yesterday.

The groups converged on the Royal Plaza before travelling in cars, buses and vans to file a petition at Government House.

Represented by nine people, they said would stage a mass rally of 100,000 protesters on May 28-29 if their demands were not met.

A government source said later the Cabinet, acting on a direction by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, later agreed that a number of government projects would be reassigned to local bodies, so that accompanying budgets could be allocated to them.

"If the local bodies want more funds, they will need to do more work," the source added, quoting a verbal conclusion agreed on by many Cabinet members in the evening session yesterday, after the protesters dispersed.

Members of the local bodies have threatened to camp out on the night of May 28 to see if Cabinet responds to their demands and move the next day to Parliament as it discusses the 2014 fiscal budget bill, to see if the bill is vetted.

PM's Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn, who oversees budget issues and the Decentralisation Act, accepted the petition, which will be sent for Cabinet to assess.

The government source quoted a statement by Varathep to Cabinet that it was impossible to give more money to the local bodies now, as they demand, because ministers endorsed and finalised the 2014 budget bill on April 30. "The bill could have been altered if the gatherers made their demand before April 30," he reportedly said.

"The issue is now the responsibility of Parliament, when it vets the bill on May 29, when the next session begins," he said, quoting Varathep.

'We'll rally on May 28-29'

After submitting their demand at noon, the group initially toned down remarks after Varathep promised to put the matter to Cabinet yesterday. They were asked to wait for Varathep for 30 minutes at Government House, but failed to meet him again. The nine members later returned to a bus and announced the threat to rally en masse on May 28-29.

Government spokesman Tossaporn Serirak said Cabinet did not discuss the four demands of local administrative organisations yesterday, although Varathep was assigned to negotiate with heads of the three groups.

Pornchai Kwosurat, a protest leader, said they stressed their protest by having 7,583 officials from local bodies dress for work in black, from yesterday. He said they would post placards and posters at every village, protesting against state centralisation.

Suporn Attawong, deputy secretary-general to the PM, invited the protest leaders to hold talks with Varathep, but they walked out of Government House immediately after realising Cabinet was not responding to their demands.

"They are challenging the local government's power, thinking that we are useless. We are willing to break away from the central government and will fight till the end," Pornchai said.

In the morning, Banjong Khositjeeranan, mayor of Muang Roi Et municipality, said it was the government's policy on a Bt300 minimum daily wage and a minimum salary of Bt15,000 a month that had hit local bodies.




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