Prayut suggests reviving East-West canal plans; storms out of press briefing after being questioned about coup

The Thai government is planning to attract more foreign investment with the building of the Kra Canal, Prime Minister Prayut-Chan-ocha said after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday. 

Prayut said his government is now concentrating on stimulating domestic demands while reducing the country’s economic dependency on external demand as part of the short-term plan to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the long term, the coalition government will focus on infrastructure projects including the redevelopment of the Eastern Economic Corridor, followed by the possibility for the Kra Canal which is also known as the Thai Canal or a “land bridge.” 

“Even though we already have the EEC, we also need to come up with a new mega project to attract more investment to Thailand,” he said. 

“The EEC started five years ago so there is need to look for a new project such as the connection and transport between the East and West including the land bridge which is now being considered,” he added. 

The prime minister also said that the project should be able to help with Thailand’s economic expansion in the long-term and government agencies have been instructed to look into investment plans for the project.  

Saksayam Chidchob, the Minister of Transport, said in August that the ministry is studying a project about deep seaports that will be 15 meters in depth to connect the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand through the ports in Chumphon and Ranong.

He said the ministry is looking at the cost-benefit of the investment and the impact of the project on the local people. He added that they are looking at two possibilities: to redevelop the existing ports or land reclamation for new ports to be built on.

The Kra Canal project is one of Asia’s most ambitious projects; however, it has yet to be built even though there have been centuries of research dating back to King Rama I.

Critics said it would never happen because the Singapore government keeps lobbying various Thai governments, including Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration, from building it.  

Short-term measures

The new round of cash handouts and job creation measures are needed in order for SMEs to keep on hiring, not for large companies to benefit from it, the prime minister said. 

His comments came after critics said that the newly formed Center for Economic Situation Administration (CESA)’s ideas for a cash handout policy worth 45 billion baht will mostly benefit large businesses.

According to the CESA’s plan that was introduced last week, the measure would include handing out 3,000 baht to 15 million Thai citizens to buy goods at registered stores, including 7-Eleven and large department stores. 

Critics said the measure will have a small impact on local community stores and street vendors and it will mostly benefit large corporations such as CP-All and Central Pattana.

“The most important thing that the government is focusing on is reducing the number of employees that are being let go from their jobs by as much as possible,” Prayut said. 

“These measures are necessary during the outbreak of the coronavirus and they are meant to help both employers and employees so please rest assured that the government is not aiming to help any large businesses at all,” he added.

The prime minister said that the CESA’s measure, which is estimated to generate at least 90 billion baht for the economy through an expected increase in domestic consumption, has yet to be approved by the cabinet on Tuesday. 

“Any new measure in this regards will be aiming for small businesses and there are mechanisms that could be put in place to ensure that and we are considering them,” he said. 

“We want customers to buy from small businesses, not the big ones,” he added.

Referendum and local elections  

Prime Minister Prayut said the Election Commission of Thailand has informed the cabinet that conducting a referendum would cost the government around 4-5 billion baht during the outbreak instead of the usual 3 billion baht during a normal period.

This is in response to the opposition and protestors’ call for the constitution to be amended or rewritten, which would require at least two referendums, he added.

“I am not saying anything negative about it. I just want to provide this information. Just don’t say that I don’t support the amendment of the constitution,” he said. “If I did not support it, the government would not be drafting this referendum bill right now.”

For local elections, which have been suspended since the coup in 2014, the prime minister said they will happen in 2020. However, he did not specify which polls will take place first.

Coup d’etat 

With rumors of a coup going around protestors’ camps and social media, the media asked the prime minister, who is a former leader of the previous junta, of its possibility. 

Prayut reacted angrily to the question before telling reporters to “just go home” and storming out of the press conference.


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