Thai MPs push $60B Covid-19 aid package through Parliament

A Covid-19 financial aid package sailed through Thailand’s House of Representatives on Sunday but opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) attacked the 1.9 trillion baht ($60 billion) aid as mostly benefiting big businesses.

After five days of debate, the lower house voted in favour of the package proposed by the government by issuing three related emergency decrees.

MPs voted 274 in favour of the first decree enabling the Ministry of Finance to borrow one trillion baht to provide support to people adversely affected by the virus outbreak, while 204 MPs abstained.

The second emergency decree, authorising the Bank of Thailand to provide 500 billion baht in soft loans to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hit by the Covid-19 fallout, sailed through with 275 voting in favour and 205 abstaining.

The third emergency decree to support bond market liquidity via the Corporate Bond Stabilisation Fund (BSF), established by the finance ministry and the central bank, prevailed with the backing of 274 MPs and 195 abstaining.

There were 487 MPs in attendance for the voting session – 276 from the coalition government and 211 from the opposition.

Nateepat Kulsetthasith, Move Forward Party MP, criticised the BSF as benefiting large corporates the most because it requires investment-grade bonds, or BBB rated, to be eligible for a bailout. Only large firms could raise funds via investment-grade bonds, he said.

He also criticised the 500 billion baht in soft loans available to support SMEs as too small or only 10 per cent of the total SME market lending of five trillion baht.

Meanwhile, Wanvipa Maison, another Move Forward Party MP, questioned the governance of the BSF saying it was likely to benefit large corporations.

She suggested that some conditions to protect labour be added – the companies eligible for fund support must not lay off workers. They must have no record of abuse of labour rights.

In case they have a current legal dispute with labourers, they should drop the case, she said. In the future, if they abused labour rights, they must be forced to buy back corporate bonds from the fund.

She also lamented that while businesses get financial support quickly, people have to wait longer for assistance.