Despite a growing deficit, Thailand’s junta-appointed parliament has voted unanimously in favour of a draft government budget that allocates an extra 8.8 billion baht to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2018.
On 8 June 2017, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the head of the country’s junta, dedicated two and a half hours to clarifying to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) the details of a draft government budget of 2.99 trillion baht for 2018.
220 billion baht is allocated to the MoD, an increase from last year of 8.8 billion baht or just over 4%. This continues a trend where, ever since the 2014 coup, the MoD budget has expanded yearly. The Ministry was allocated 193 billion baht in 2015, and 208 billion baht in 2016.
While Thailand’s defence budget grows, other state programmes face cuts, with the 2018 budget down 23 billion baht from 2017, with a 450 billion baht deficit. It was earlier revealed that in February the treasury reserves
had been depleted by 80 per cent since the 2014 coup. The treasury’s balance was then a sixth of what it was in 2014, down to 75 billion baht in reserves from 495 billion baht.
According to Prayut and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, the increase in MoD funding is required for Thailand’s military to be competitive with other nations, and will be used to replace outdated weaponry.
Prayut urged the parliament to pass the bill, warning that a fixation with the junta’s shortcomings would stall the country’s progress. Before the budget was approved unanimously, only 18 MPs elected to speak to the proposed budget, with the majority speaking in favour. A mere three MPs chose to abstain from the vote.
The five agencies allocated the largest budgets in 2018 were, in order, the Ministry of Education, the Central Fund, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Finance and the closely scrutinised Ministry of Defence.
The budget allocations filled six ‘key missions’. The goal of ‘stability’ was allocated 270 billion baht, ‘fixing poverty’ was allocated 330 billion baht, while ‘water resources management’ was allocated 120 billion baht.
The budget will be promulgated within 90 days.