PM Srettha Thavisin presses on doggedly with his increasingly contentious Digital Wallet scheme. The plan faces public indifference, warnings of legal peril for ministers involved and economists who suggest that any gain will be short-term and counterproductive in the longer term. In March, a Senate showdown looms when the scheme will be weaponised to attack both Mr Srettha and his government.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin appears to still be determined to push through his stalled Digital Wallet scheme. This comes in the face of potential legal peril for ministers involved and an overall lack of enthusiasm and support from the public. In recent days, Mr Srettha questioned a National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion poll. In brief, it showed that nearly 69% of people would not be bothered if the scheme was shelved. At the same time, ministers such as Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai warn Thailand faces an economic crisis without it.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin in Sri Lanka last weekend, where he expressed his frustration to reporters over the stalled Digital Wallet scheme. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai (left) warned of an economic crisis this year if it does not get the green light.

The PM is facing a grilling by the conservative Senate under Section 153 of the Constitution in March. This will come after his proposed visit to Europe. Chief among the issues to be raised will be the case of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and Pheu Thai’s Digital Wallet scheme.

Last week, the PM, after recovering from a bout of flu, was in Sri Lanka. There, he signed three Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) on trade and services.

While celebrating these diplomatic achievements, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, however, voiced his concern over the delay in receiving recommendations from the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) regarding the digital wallet project.

The Prime Minister appeared piqued at the prolonged wait for the NACC’s input. He suggested alternative methods to support the project.

PM still adamant about implementing a scheme that many political observers think is dead in the water since it places his ministers in legal peril later

Speaking with reporters on the trip, Mr Srettha admitted he was frustrated at the delay to his Digital Wallet scheme.

‘We have been waiting for a long time. I think there must be another method to support it because the suggestion hasn’t come yet. Fellow citizens cannot wait,’ said Prime Minister Srettha.

The digital wallet project is Mr Srettha’s economic stimulus plan. In short, it aims to provide ฿10,000 in digital credit to Thai people aged over 16 years of age with some exceptions. The scheme was on the government’s agenda in the prime minister’s speech to parliament upon taking office.

However, it is thought by many pundits to be dead in the water. Feedback on the project from both the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has been less than supportive.

In short, this puts the government or ministers pursuing it in potential legal peril if it goes ahead. This is because of its complex nature and its huge price tag of over ฿500 billion.

National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) panel warned of legal danger for ministers pushing the plan based on election and financial discipline safeguards

A National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) panel in mid-January warned of potential electoral law violations linked with the plan. It also warned of a breach of financial discipline by the government.

The panel cited the 2018 State Fiscal and Financial Disciplines Act in particular.

Digital Wallet plan blown out of the water by corruption body on Tuesday warning of illegality

Notwithstanding this, the scheme faces strong opposition from the Democrat Party and within the Senate.

However, the Pheu Thai Party, led by MPs like Wisaradee Techateerawat, avidly supports the policy.

They emphasise the positive impact on GDP growth and the circular economy, citing research results that indicate substantial benefits.

Public not too excited or enthused by this plan. In fact, its release before the May 14th General Election saw Pheu Thai’s support tumble in the polls

Recent polls have shown a range of opinions regarding the digital wallet policy. A Nida Poll indicates that nearly 69% of respondents would not be upset if the handout scheme were scrapped.

The polling reflects a lack of enthusiasm among the public for the plan. In effect, it does not offer people cash payments. Instead, it is a complex scheme of limited online credits with purchases limited to local shops.

Significantly, the policy proposal by Pheu Thai was launched just weeks before the May 14th General Election.

In short, it coincided with a drop in support for the party. At the same time, support rose for the Move Forward Party. The country’s largest party promised the beginning of a social welfare state with guaranteed cash handouts. 

Prime Minister and ministers insist the policy is needed. This week, Mr Srettha questioned the accuracy of the NIDA poll in reflecting a nationwide view

Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai on Tuesday said that the government would consider all opinions. He emphasised that the digital wallet policy aligns with the government’s commitment to the public.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, nevertheless, expressed scepticism about the Nida Poll results. In particular, he questioned whether they represented the entire population.

He insisted that people he met during provincial visits showed no objection to the handout scheme.

Despite the NACC’s warning of potential legal issues surrounding the digital wallet scheme, Prime Minister Srettha continues to affirm the government’s commitment to the project. 

He has announced plans to accelerate talks with Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat. At length, the plan is to explore ways to address concerns raised by the NACC.

The government, facing daunting economic challenges, views the digital wallet policy as a crucial measure.

Pheu Thai ministers speak of alleviating the people’s plight and stimulating economic growth. 

It does not address Thailand’s economic problems. However, on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai warned of an imminent crisis without it

However, consumer confidence has been rising and at the same time, domestic spending. Thailand’s economic malaise, presently, is the erosion of its manufacturing sector. 

Elephant pants should be a Thai success story. Instead, it is a story of economic policy failure as manufacturing slips

The Digital Wallet scheme is opposed by the Bank of Thailand. At this time, the central bank argues that financial stability must be the top priority.

The country’s public debt-to-GDP ratio has already risen to 61.9%. In short, the plan may damage the country’s fiscal health and ability to manoeuvre.

Top economists point out that the scheme will do nothing to solve Thailand’s long-term structural issues with its economy. It has been estimated that it may add 0.5 to 0.7% to GDP growth if implemented this year.

However, on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai warned of a potential economic crisis.

In this context, he emphasised the necessity of the digital wallet in boosting purchasing power and addressing fiscal concerns.

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