Bt2 trillion plan raises fears of graft
The plan to borrow Bt2 trillion to finance infrastructure projects is expected to see the ghost of corruption return to haunt the Yingluck Shinawatra government once again.The plan was announced when Yingluck outlined her government's national strategy on Tuesday.
The announcement was made to a meeting of heads of government agencies and provincial governors to unveil the prime minister's vision for running the country in her second year in office.
The prime minister also explained the preparations for the 2014 fiscal year budget bill. The budget would gear the country up to be ready for full integration into the Asean Economic Community (AEC). The prime minister said projects in various clusters in the provinces had to respond to the national strategies.
The framework for drafting the 2014 fiscal year budget bill was approved by the Cabinet on Monday, while the bill to allow the Finance Ministry to borrow the Bt2 trillion would be submitted to the Cabinet for deliberation on February 5.
Yingluck said most of the loan would be used to finance transport infrastructure during the seven-year plan. The Transport Ministry will own most of the projects, including land, marine and air-transportation projects.
Up to Bt1.6 trillion would be used on rail projects, including 10 electric train projects, high-speed train projects and double-track railway projects. And Bt320 billion would be used for road-construction projects, including expansion of provincial roads from two to four lanes and construction of motorways to link provinces and regions in preparation for the AEC.
The government plans to spend Bt30 million from the loan to invest in marine-transportation projects, including a deep seaport project in Songkhla, a seaport project in Chumphon and the Pakbara seaport project in Satun.
It seems the "big boss", former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has made preparations for these various transport mega-projects. Thaksin has had Chadchart Sittipunt, whom he trusts, promoted from the position of deputy transport minister to become transport minister. Chadchart is known to be an expert in handling infrastructure projects.
But the amount of the new loan will be very high and thus will rekindle perceptions of alleged irregularities and siphoning off of funds, which hit the government before.
So far, the government has not completely cleared itself from the suspicion that most of its budget has been siphoned off and ended up in the pockets of party funders, politicians and those close to the government, rather than stimulating the economy. But now there will be several new mega projects.
Anyway, this time the government has come up with measures to be more prudent in spending the Bt2 trillion in loan funds. It has come up with a strategic plan to develop the transport infrastructure before seeking the loans, unlike the Bt350 billion the government earlier borrowed for handling comprehensive flood-prevention projects.
Critics said the Bt350 billion loan was like issuing a blank cheque by the government because it obtained the loans before drafting the projects. Critics alleged the government later came up with projects just to spend money from the Bt350 billion. Such practices led to a lack of transparency and caused the budget to be siphoned off, critics alleged.
Worse still, the drawing of money from the Bt350 billion loan occurred slowly. The Bt350 billion loan executive decree took effect on February 8, 2012, but so far only Bt3 billion has been drawn out to finance projects. This has led to allegations that someone influential ordered the delay of the loan spending.
With a large part of the Bt350 billion remaining, a big new loan will be acquired by the government soon.
It will worsen the public debt crisis. Worse still, it will provide new ammunition for attacking the government over alleged corruption in various projects.