BANGKOK: Mr Pradit Boonkate, 67, has been working in the Thai capital Bangkok as a security guard since he left his hometown in central Ratchaburi province some 16 years ago. He now earns 15,900 baht (US$437) monthly, with six days of leave annually.
His meagre pay explains why he was happy initially to hear that he would be among some 56 million Thais to receive a digital cash handout worth 10,000-baht from the new government next February under an economic incentive devised by the ruling Pheu Thai Party as part of its political campaign.
For low income-earners like Mr Pradit, the scheme, which involves the cash being disbursed digitally, may seem like a nice idea at first.
But when considering how the cash must be spent – in six months, on food, medicines and occupational tools at local businesses located within a 4km radius of their registered address – those who live and work far away from home could find it hard to enjoy the free money.
“For people who live in the countryside, there is a huge distance between the town and their homes. Their villages often have small grocery stores selling things like canned fish and eggs which won’t accept the digital money,” Mr Pradit, whose registered address remains in his Ratchaburi hometown, told CNA.
Although the government plans to adjust the conditions for remote areas to ensure the digital cash can penetrate and benefit all parts of the country, many people suspect the US$15 billion scheme will end up serving the rich and their big businesses, which already have the capacity to provide goods and the technology to accommodate transactions.
“How can small shops supply so many things?” Mr Pradit said. “It’s good to receive the money but if you ask who will enjoy the benefit, it’s the rich.”
THE GOVERNMENT GIVES, THE PEOPLE PAY?
The digital wallet programme is designed for Thai nationals, with only one qualifying condition: as long as they are aged 16 and above.
Its key objective is to increase the spending power of low-income earners while stimulating the economy through income distribution in communities nationwide.
But a group of reportedly 99 academics, economists and former governors of the Bank of Thailand have recently issued a joint statement against its implementation.
They urged the government to scrap the programme, arguing that such a massive expenditure to boost short-term consumption will run up public debt and hurt Thailand’s financial stability in the long run.
“Eventually, it’s the people who will have to pay it back, whether it would be through higher taxes and/or higher prices of goods caused by inflation – a result of a monetary injection,” the statement said.
Last month, governor of the Bank of Thailand Dr Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput also advised that the policy should only target certain groups of people, as not everyone needs such financial aid and the economy is recovering well.
Also, some small business operators are hesitant to participate in the programme.
Ms Orapin Thanomsap, owner of a small food and goods store in Bangkok’s Watthana district, told CNA it is unclear how long she will have to wait before she can encash the digital payment from her customers.
Moreover, the 59-year-old doubts the scheme would generate more income for her shop as she believes most consumers are likely to spend the cash handouts at malls, convenience stores and big supermarkets.
“It’ll benefit 7-Eleven, not humble shops like mine, I can guarantee,” she said, adding she also plans to spend the digital money at big supermarkets to restock her shop while saving her own money.
“This will give a boost for the rich, for sure, as for the poor, they’ll just continue being poor.”
SPLIT AND DELAY THE DIGITAL PAYMENT
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Saturday (Oct 14) defended his party’s policy even as he acknowledged there are mixed feelings towards the “digital wallet” scheme.
He claimed that by injecting US$15 billion into the economy through digital wallets, the scheme could increase public spending, boost productivity in the industrial sector and stimulate employment.
“Our intention is that the money is spent in local areas where your address is registered. This will help develop your communities and not just the big cities alone,” he wrote on social media platform X on Saturday.
But despite months of campaigning, Mr Srettha and his Pheu Thai Party have yet to determine how they will fund the multi-billion-dollar programme.