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PM defends performance in 'challenging' first year

PRIME MINISTER Yingluck Shinawatra finally delivered her administration's first-year performance declaration to Parliament yesterday, stressing that the period was filled with challenges and problems on many fronts, ranging from politics, society and natural disasters to the global economic downturn.

The premier defended her numerous official trips abroad, saying they were aimed at restoring investor confidence in Thailand and fostering greater investment and economic ties with foreign friends.

Since the government came to power in 2011, it has sought to pursue three key policies - rebalancing the economy to strengthen fundamentals, fostering national reconciliation on the basis on equality and preparing the country for integration under the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

Up to 70 per cent of the economy is dependent on exports so a stronger domestic consumption base needed to be built, while the gap between the rich and poor needed to be narrowed.

This was partly achieved by giving people greater access to capital and pushing for a seven-year major infrastructure investment programme including high-speed train routes.

However, the global economic outlook remains volatile and complex. Spending on flood-prevention measures has led to the cutting of budgets for some ministries although advent of the AEC should help boost trade and tourism.

Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said employment remained stable with a low unemployment rate and the introduction of a Bt300 minimum wage at the beginning of the year "went well".

Appropriate measures have been introduced to expand the tax base and reduce farmers' debts. Prices of 42 commodities remained under government control and the prices of 140 more commodities have been temporarily frozen.

"The reduction of company taxes has led to the private sector being more honest in their tax payments," he said, adding that the first-car policy also enabled a million people to own a car, which was an important asset, and boosted their quality of life.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva presented a starkly different view of the government's 12-month performance, arguing that the administration had failed the people. He said independent figures pointed to Thailand losing competitiveness in all areas.

Petrol prices also became more expensive than what the government promised, causing hardship among the public, while the first-car and first-home schemes failed to boost the real economy. They had led instead to increasing debt.

"The prime minister must rethink how the economy is managed, because populist projects do not work and cannot strengthen the economy. It also created more risk," he said.

Fiscal discipline was also necessary, he added.


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