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A Week in Review: August 14 - 20, 2010

...erm, yes of course I was going to share it.

The news in Thailand last week was dominated by the 2011 budget debate. With 2.07 trillion baht up for grabs, it’s a big pie. Read here to find out who’s got their sticky fingers in it.

For the first time in Thailand’s short but colourful political history, the annual budget debate could not be finished in one week-long session. With only 16 out of 33 sections having been passed by Friday, the debate will reconvene on Tuesday.

The slow progress is mainly down to the opposition Phuea Thai party MPs who took the opportunity to keep their supporters happy by attacking the government on live national television. However, it is also partly due to the budget itself, which contains more than a few questionable sections.

Surprisingly, the biggest slice of the budget was set aside for education. At 388 billion baht, it is a hefty slice that accounts for almost one fifth of the total budget allocation. Even more surprising is that Education has been the main beneficiary of Thailand’s budget spending for several years now.

The fact that education would be identified as the most worthy recipient of public funding is not at all surprising. What is surprising, however, is the fact that after several years of heavy investment, the education system in Thailand is still so woefully inadequate and socially divisive.

At 170 billion baht, military spending may have only been the fourth biggest slice of the budget pie, but it was the number one gripe of Phuea Thai. The Ministry of Defence’s indefensible record of wasting taxpayers’ money has been well documented in earlier This is Thailand reviews and Phuea Thai made this the focus of their anti-government assaults.

In particular, Phuea Thai MPs questioned the need for such excessive spending on the likes of fighter planes when comparatively little is being invested in addressing the needs of the poor in areas such as agriculture.

Inevitably, there were also claims that the high military budget was nothing more than a reward to the army for supporting the government during the red shirt protests earlier this year.

One of the more worrying sections of the budget was the 32 billion baht set aside for MPs’ “pet projects”. Under this scheme, MPs can receive between 25 and 40 million baht each to spend on developing their constituencies. Cute. But WRONG!

A similar project was scrapped in 1997 for obvious reasons. However, in re-launching this scheme, the schemers have added some checks and balances for decoration. To prevent the very real possibility of any of these funds disappearing under a table in a large brown envelope, the funds can not be given directly to MPs (genius). The funds will instead be channelled through government agencies (in several smaller brown envelopes under a wide variety of tables). This is called “wealth distribution” in Thailand but “corruption” elsewhere.

Despite some clearly controversial sections and the extension of the debate into a second week, Phuea Thai is unlikely to prevent the budget from being passed next week.

While many of the points raised by the opposition were valid and at least deserving of the government’s explanation and justification, Phuea Thai MPs diluted their effectiveness with numerous thinly-disguised attacks on the government that were tangential to say the least.

No matter how righteous their underlying cause, the odious nature of most Phuea Thai MPs makes them as credible as a whore in a habit.

Watching them attack the government with claims of corruption is akin to watching snakes complain about the length of the grass in the jungle.

Paul Snowdon – August 21, 2010

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