BANGKOK: As well as creating a huge technical problem for the Ministry of Finance website with over 10 times the load or public demand on Saturday, the scheme has also been plagued by fraudsters with up to 44 counterfeit sites reported by ministry officials on Sunday and a promise from the minister, Uttama Saowanayon, to have all those involved in such criminal exploits quickly brought to justice.

The Thai government will discuss the possible creation of a new emergency fund from unspent budgets or a special decree allowing for increased borrowing to fund emergency support for workers, small business and the public as a result of last week’s shutdown of major portions of the Thai economy as part of emergency measures to control the virus. On Monday, the finance ministry said that it had already received nearly 19 million applications from self-employed and informal workers for a measure that was only expected to meet the needs of 3 million people when announced last week.

Thailand’s Minister of Finance, Uttama Saowanayon, on Sunday warned that those involved in fraud and creating counterfeit websites will face 3 years in jail and will be prosecuted without exception as over 20 million are expected to apply for the government’s support payments for the self-employed which was initially forecast to attract 3 million applicants

Thailand’s government is projected to receive up to 20 million applications from hard-pressed traders, self-employed and informal workers under the emergency support programme announced last Tuesday and for which a registration website opened on Saturday evening.

By Monday at 6 am, over 18.7 million applications were already received by the government for the monthly support payments according to figures from Thailand’s Ministry of Finance.

Payments of ฿5,000 per months until June expected to be requested by over 20 million Thai self-employed

The measure involves payments of ฿5,000 per month for three months until the end of June.

Lavaron Sangsnit, the Director-General of the Fiscal Policy Office, said that the website (www.เราไม่ทิ้งกัน.com) which means ‘we don’t leave anybody behind’, will open until no more people register. He indicated that confirmation of registrations will be issued on April 4th or Saturday of this week.

Number projected last week was 3 million

Last week, when the support provision was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, it was thought that the numbers seeking this support would be in the region of 3 million.

The huge demand is an indication of the vast nature of Thailand’s underground or grey economy which has, for many decades, been the key to its resilience.

However, the government’s shutdown and lockdown efforts in the last week has finally brought this sector to a halt, an unprecedented situation in Thailand even beyond Thailand’s experience during World War II.

Load on the website last Saturday 10 times what was expected when registrations went live at 6 pm

On Saturday, after 6 pm, the website seeking applications encountered repeated difficulties despite predictions that there would be problems.

The technical problems were later resolved by experts who estimated that the load on the government website was 10 times what was expected.

Cloned and fraudulent websites set up to lure and defraud users up and running from the get-go

Not only that, but within 24 hours, the Ministry of Finance was warning the public about cloned or counterfeit websites seeking to fraudulently claim benefits on behalf of Thai nationals.

These sites went up also on Saturday engineered by cybercriminals with a keen sense of timing and opportunity. The fraudsters knew how to take advantage of many users carrying out such a task for the first time online.

These include a number of websites with a variation of the name or domain of the official government website which is a domain in the Thai language.

The public has also been warned of social media exploits with pages offering to process payments on behalf of self employed people for a fee of up to ฿1,200.

Finance Minister promised swift action against fraudsters preying on people in need at this time

On Sunday, the Minister of Finance, Uttama Saowanayon and senior ministry officials were warning the public about the exploits.

The minister issued a statement stating that he was urging police authorities and appropriate officials to immediately track down, arrest and prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, those involved in the capers.

They face up to 3 years imprisonment if convicted of the offences involved.

‘We hope that the people are not fooled by those who improperly exploit them. We encourage the public to take steps to prevent the risk of misusing their personal information for other uses. This will result in financial losses to you later,’ said Charnkrit Dechwittak, a top aide to the Minister of Finance in response to the counterfeit and fraud activity.

The ministry revealed that officials had identified at least 44 fraudulent websites attempting to ambush users anxious to register for the badly needed support payments.

Practical measures to assist small business owners including cheap loans and deferred tax returns

The range of government assistance and measures announced last week are extensive and practical for small business users and company employees.

Those employed and paying social security can receive 50% of their salaries while monthly payments of ฿5,000 are being made to self-employed and informal workers for 3 months.

The schemes also include an easy to obtain bank loan of ฿10,000 at 1.2% annual interest and up to ฿50,000 through the Government Savings Bank and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives at 4.2%. 

The second category of loan requires a guarantor and there is a cap of ฿40 billion on the total funds that can be dispersed.

The government has also agreed on a wide-ranging package of measures allowing for late tax returns as well as extended tax allowances and tax exemptions to business during the emergency.

Deputy PM Somkid last week expressed confidence that the government can also borrow money

At the end of last week, the Deputy Prime Minister Mr Somkid, expressed confidence that the government could borrow additional sums if required to tide the country over this difficult period following a high-level meeting with the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Bank of Thailand.

Budget Director on Monday warned that the emergency fund of ฿96 billion was running dry

On Monday, this appeared a step closer when the Director of the Budget Bureau, Dechapiwat na Songkhla, raised the prospect of the exhaustion of the government’s current budget of ฿96 billion for emergency requirements.

 ‘The emergency fund of ฿96 billion from the fiscal 2020 budget has been nearly used up,’ said Mr Dechapiwat on Monday.

Matter to be addressed by the cabinet this week

The matter is to be addressed by the Thai cabinet on Tuesday.

The Director proposed a number of solutions, one of which is to issue an emergency decree to borrow to provide more funding.

This will involve seeking and obtaining the approval of the Constitutional Court since the constitution imposes strictures on the government under Section 140 in this regard even though it is provided for under Section 272 in emergencies.

New emergency fund from unspent budgets 

The second and easier proposal being advocated by the Budget Director is to divert money budgeted for other government expenditure and projects to an emergency fund.

Mr Dechapiwat foresees this option as being faster and less legally problematic.

Further reading:

No limit on borrowing as Somkid plots the biggest stimulus package yet to address the virus crisis

Economist warns economy needs ‘blanket’ fiscal support and a ‘big problem’ if the virus effect persists

Thailand faces lockdown if Phase 3 breaks out as the numbers infected more than treble in 1 week

UK Ambassador warns that links with home may be disrupted for many months as Thailand closes

Thai government responds with targeted stimulus plans to help the economy through the virus crisis