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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        8  January 2011

Thai finance minister espouses welfare plan

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Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij has suggested the actual cost-of-living savings for 10 million Thais under the Pracha Wiwat social welfare scheme could be as much 26 billion baht a year, up from a previous estimate of only 10 billion.

However, he declined to disclose recent changes in the scheme's details, saying instead these would be explained by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during his weekly television broadcast tomorrow.

Mr. Abhisit earlier said he would rather sift through the details and make a final decision before making any announcement, but most people believe the scheme will not change significantly from what is already known.

Critics say Pracha Wiwat is ``just another populist policy'' meant to pave the way for a Democrat Party victory in this year's election. However, Mr. Korn insisted the "well-designed project'" would cost only 2 billion baht a year while benefiting 10 million people and helping resolve inequalities in society.

He said Pracha Wiwat would be the first national policy to come from a joint effort of all relevant government agencies to seek the best solutions to the problems of poverty and people falling outside the social safety net.

Government officials working with the international consultancy McKinsey gathered information on the needs of low-income people, resulting in the recognition of five urgent tasks. Foremost is lowering the cost of living for low-income residents and those not in the social security system.

"There are as many as 24 million people living outside the social security system, so one priority is to cover their retirement,'" said Mr. Korn.

He said prices for farm products such as eggs are also a concern related to the cost of living, and rather than distort market mechanisms, the scheme will improve competitiveness for cooperatives so they can survive in a market dominated by a few large players.

"We've also scrutinized the animal feed price structure, which suffers from a major market dominance that results in high meat prices, as animal feed is the main cost in the production of meat products,'' said the minister.

Pracha Wiwat is also aimed at assisting taxi drivers, motorcycle taxi drivers, vendors and others not covered by the social security system by offering low-interest loans through state banks.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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