Thai junta approves $509 million cash handout for poor amid economic woes

General Prayut Chan-o-cha said the move would be a "stimulus to the economy that would trigger more spending".
General Prayut Chan-o-cha said the move would be a "stimulus to the economy that would trigger more spending".PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's military leaders on Tuesday (Nov 22) announced US$358 million (S$509.77 million) in cash handouts for some of the kingdom's poorest people, a surprise giveaway from a junta that decried subsidies by the civilian government it toppled.

The move comes as Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, whose democratically elected administration was kicked out in a 2014 coup, faces up to a decade in jail over a generous rice subsidy aimed at the rural poor.

Since seizing power, junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has railed against the rice scheme, which cost Thailand billions of dollars, and vowed to end Thailand's culture of "populist" government subsidies.

But in its latest sop to an increasingly hard-up public, General Prayut said US$358 million in cash handouts would be released next month.

"It's a measure to help low-income earners," he told reporters, adding that the move would be a "stimulus to the economy that would trigger more spending".

Those earning under 30,000 baht (S$1,203.12) a year will receive a 3,000 baht one-time handout, while those earning between 30-100,000 baht will be given 1,500 baht.

Farmers are not included in the latest handout because they had already received financial help, he added.

The military has stifled opposition to its rule by clamping down on rights, but has found economic success more elusive.

Although the economy has picked up since the coup - with a forecast growth rate of 3.2 per cent this year - high household debt, weakening exports, slumping foreign investment and low consumer confidence crimp what was once one of the region's strongest economies.

Farmers, especially in the enormous rice and rubber sectors, have been hit hard by low commodity prices this year.

The economic wobbles have seen the junta resort to the kind of populist tactics they vowed to end.

Earlier this month, the junta approved a rescue package of at least US$1.3 billion in subsidies for farmers who agree to delay selling their crops to avoid a glut.

Rice is Thailand's staple dish and one of its main agricultural exports, but also has major political significance as farmers are the backbone of a pro-democracy movement that the junta has suppressed.