A NEW BILL and amendments to the Computer Crime Act BE 2550 sailed through the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) after the first reading, as Thailand lays the groundwork for its digital economy while increasing penalties for online and related offences.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Minister Uttama Savanayana told the NLA that the new digital economy bill would provide a legal framework to systematically develop the country by covering all key aspects relating to economic and social benefits.
The bill requires the Cabinet to formulate a national digital economy blueprint that will maximise benefits provided by various telecommunications and information technology networks that are being invested in by the government and the private sector. In addition, fiscal, financial, investment and tax policies will be used to facilitate the growth of the digital economy, according to the ICT minister.
For example, a Bt10-billion fund will be set up to finance new digital and related investment schemes, including providing low-interest loans to government and private entities.
Wallop Tangkananuluk, an NLA member, said the government would have to ensure that the fund is managed in a transparent manner since tens of billions of baht of tax money would be involved. He suggested the bill include more details on the governance of the use of public funds.
Voraphol Sokatiyanuluk, another NLA member, said the digital economy bill would help to increase the country’s international competitiveness but added the government should also use digital and related technologies to help reduce spending on personnel and other fixed expenditures in the state sector.
Tax revenues have been lagging behind rising public expenditures, resulting in successive years of state budget deficits, he said.
At present, fixed expenditures account for as much as 75 per cent of the country’s overall Bt2.7-trillion annual expenditure budget, Voraphol said.
NLA member Tuang Antachai said the government must create a new Cabinet portfolio for a digital economy minister to implement the bill once it is enacted. ICT Minister Uttama said a new ministry would be set up to take charge of the digital economy after the bill is approved by the NLA. After the first reading, 159 NLA members approved of the bill while four rejected it and another four abstained.
Meanwhile, amendments to the Computer Crime Act were also approved after a first reading yesterday stipulating that online and related offences will be subject to stronger penalties, including fines and imprisonment. Unsolicited emails, online distribution of false data that is libellous or affects national security or the economy, and other online offences will be punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to Bt200,000.