An adviser to the prime minister, Natthriya Thaweevong, defended the 2.6-million-baht budget the government has allocated to purchase 111 iPhone 12s for its officials, saying smartphones are crucial in the digital age.
She was responding to the public outcry over the plan to purchase 23 iPhone 12s with 128-gigabyte (GB) storage for ministers, director-generals and senior officials down to C10 level, and 88 iPhone 12s with a 64-GB memory for director-level officials.
Ms Thaweevong said the phones are meant to replace the iPhone 7 that was given to officials five years ago. She added many officials cannot afford to purchase a new smartphone, so the government decided to step in.
The adviser also said it is normal for any office to earmark some money to procure smartphones, as they will enable the recipients to work more effectively.
She said many other workplaces would extend the policy to cover their employees’ telephone bills.
She asked the public to trust the government’s decision as it was taken for the benefit of everyone.
Following the uproar over the phones, the non-governmental organisation Mirror Foundation asked the government to donate the old iPhones to children who need smartphones to attend online courses.
When asked if the foundation has contacted the Secretariat of the Prime Minister, Ms Thaweevong said the foundation has yet to send a formal request, which will be needed as the used phones are state property.
The foundation posted another message today, saying it has sent a letter to the office. It will also ask for used smartphones from other offices to be donated to underprivileged kids, it said.
Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, MP and leader of the Thai Civilised Party, said on Facebook that it’s a shame that while the government cannot afford to shore up the price of rice and rubber, it attempted to buy expensive items for its officials.
Piyawat Phansaichuea, Pheu Thai Party MP for Yasothon, said he received many complaints from rice farmers who have not received any relief from the government, as the government is choosing to wait for next year’s budget to clear.
He said it is ironic that the government said it cannot afford relief projects but it can seek budgets for weaponry and smartphones for officials.