Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri says that as the government nears its half-term mark, it faces an uphill battle to reach its goal of giving the country’s ailing economy a shot in the arm.
That said, Mr Burapachaisri maintained that reviving the economy remains the government’s top priority for the rest of its term, before adding it is the government public relations team’s duty to keep the public informed of the progress.
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha began his present tenure as prime minister on 11th June 2019 following the general election in March, and his cabinet was formed in July.
As the constitution stipulates the government’s tenure begins on the day parliamentarians were affirmed, technically the government was formed on 24th March.
Outlining the government’s priorities for the rest of its tenure, Mr Burapachaisri said the top goal is to reinvigorate the ailing economy, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, through stimulus measures such as the Rao Tiew Duay Kan (“We Travel Together”) tourism package, the Khon La Krueng (“Half, Half”) co-payment subsidy and the Rao Chana (“We Win”) financial assistance scheme.
With the rollout of relief programmes, the government’s economic recovery effort is set to kick into high gear, he said.
The National Economic and Social Development Council initially predicted the economy would contract by -7.5%, but Thailand fared better than expected, contracting by -6.1% instead.
This year, according to the council, given the national COVID-19 vaccination programme has started with frontline medical workers and at-risk groups receiving the first doses last week, the economy could grow in the region of 2.5-3.5%.
“Confidence will surge as the economy rebounds as a result of the stimuli, which in turn bodes well for the revival of tourism and foreign investments,” Mr Burapachaisri said.
The spokesman said in addition to supplying public updates on the nation’s COVID-19 situation, his team has been putting out information about Thailand’s ongoing reforms and its strategy to transition to a Bio-Circular Green Economy model.
“As we’re close to arriving at the mid-point, we need to pick up our pace on these policies and projects,” he said, before adding at the same time, the government is maintaining strict fiscal discipline to ensure the funds it has are spent effectively.
Another priority issue, Mr Burapachaisri said, is dealing with the fallout from the two censure debates against the government in parliament, both of which it managed to survive.
The spokesman said any issues raised in the debate that the prime minister did not have time to get into during the debate, will be explained by the public relations team.
“We have gathered the important points from the no-confidence session and it is our job as spokespeople of the government to explain the details to the public,” he said.
The explanations will be broadcast through podcasts, state-run websites and other media outlets, he said.
Mr Burapachaisri said in his remaining two years in office, he plans to expand the government’s outreach through new platforms, including the invite-only, audio-based social networking app, Clubhouse.
That said, he stressed that newer technologies aren’t necessarily better.
The pros and cons of Clubhouse, for example, must be weighed carefully, given growing public concerns about data privacy, leaks, unauthorised wire-tapping, as well as the illegal sales of invitations and deep-fakes, Mr Burapachaisri added.
“We’ve heard of some people opening discussion rooms in Clubhouse to skirt laws on defamation,” he said.
“If there are instances of potential abuse, then we must take steps to prevent them.”
The most recent censure debate targeting Gen Prayut and 10 of his minister, which took place last month, presented the government the opportunity to refute wide-ranging allegations against it, from policy mismanagement and suspected graft.
But many observers noted that many questions thrown by the opposition remain unanswered.
In response, Mr Burapachaisri said his team worked hard to provide all the information the prime minister needed, but the prime minister was unable to get through everything to time constraints in the debate.
He said no further censure motions should be pushed to incite anti-government protests, as the results of the previous motions have shown the country’s checks-and-balances system is still alive and functioning.
That said, the prime minister has taken stock of the opposition’s input in the debate and subsequently pledged to implement some of them, Mr Burapachaisri added.
“Listening to the voices of those in the minority is part-and-parcel of being a democracy,” he said.
As for the push to rewrite the nation’s charter, Mr Burapachaisri said the motion required to amend the constitution is being discussed in parliament.
“People are concerned about the country’s many problems, including the pandemic and the economic slump.
“The government needs to achieve a balance in tackling these problems, it can’t just focus solely on political issues,” he said.
When asked about the impending cabinet reshuffle, Mr Burapachaisri said the matter will be decided ultimately by the prime minister, before stressing that coalition parties remain solidly united.