Democrat say they will pass budget bill in first reading

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The Democrat Party will vote to pass the draft fiscal budget bill in its first reading but there are still concerns that have to be addressed in the second and third readings, a senior member of the party told Thai Enquirer on Wednesday.

“The party will definitely vote to pass it in the first reading because people who are suffering from the economic downturn will need it,” said Panich Vikisreth, Democrat’s party-list MP.

“We do not see the bill as a means for a political bargain,” he said.

The reading of the 2023 budget bill, worth 3.185 trillion baht, started on Tuesday and it is scheduled to end on Thursday.

Panich said ministries have drawn up the budget in accord with regulations and as a government party, the Democrat want the bill to pass for management in the last year of this government’s term.

However, there are still concerns over the rising national debt, military budget and the budget for bureaucrats which the Democrat will address in the second and third readings.

“There is a need to cut off some excess fat,” Panich said.

He said the national debt is beginning to be “uncontrollable” and the government, especially the Ministry of Finance, should have better fiscal discipline.

He said the budget for the Ministry of Defence should be further scrutinized as many opposition parties have pointed out already. The Pheu Thai Party and the Move Forward Party have over the past weeks called for a further cut in the military budget, especially the budget to buy new arms as there are many long-term commitments already and they want to use the money to be used to stimulate the economy instead.

He said the budget for bureaucrats is “inflated” and it has been this way for many years so there is a need to find a way to better control it.

“We are spending too much on fixed budgets and it is not worth it,” he said. “We have too many people for things that we do not really need or can be replaced by technology and this is adding more fiscal burden in terms of pension,” he said.

Panich’s comments echoed that of other Democrat MPs who said in parliament on Tuesday that the budget bill should be passed, not thrown away.

Issara Sereewatthanawut, the head of the party’s economic team, said he disagreed with the move to vote down the bill. The move to vote down the bill was proposed by the Pheu Thai Party last week and opposition parties agreed that the bill is flawed.

“No matter if you agree with the government or not, this budget is like an oxygen tank that will help people to keep on breathing,” he said.

“Voting down the budget would be like cutting the oxygen line that is helping people and if they think of the people more than a political game, they should change from voting down the budget to suggest ways to adjust it in the committee,” he said.

He also said that the country is currently fighting a losing war against a national debt worth 14 trillion baht which is near to the country’s gross domestic product worth around 16.2 trillion baht.

“There is no way we can win as Thai people are drowning in debt 23 hours a day,” he said.

He said the budget to concentrate more on projects that will help reduce the national debt and lower unnecessary budgets such as 900 million baht for renting cars for high ranking officials and traveling money worth 2-3 billion baht.

“These regular payments to officials and budget for new hiring are beyond what the government can afford,” he said.

“We have to stop pouring gasoline into the fire, pluck the corruption loopholes and stop overspending on individuals,” he said.

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