Amid increasing calls from student activists for reforms to the Thai monarchy, the steep rise in the annual budget for Palace agencies over the years has drawn the attention of netizens.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Progressive Movement and former leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party, said the House committee vetting the national budget bill for fiscal year 2020-2021 met on Thursday.
He said the representative from the Budget Bureau spent only two minutes presenting the Palace agencies’ budget without giving many details, so Thanathorn asked for more explanation.
He made the revelation in a Facebook post on Friday.
The annual budget of Palace agencies has been pegged at 8.98 billion baht ($285 million) for the next fiscal year.
Thanathorn is an adviser to the committee and attended the budget scrutiny meeting on Thursday. He took notes and posted the details of the committee’s discussions on the Progressive Movement’s Facebook page on Friday.
Palace agencies have asked for 8.98 billion baht for the 2021 fiscal year (October 2020 to September 2021). The amount was up 16.8 per cent from the 7.68 billion baht spent in the current fiscal year, compared to a 3.1 per cent rise in the overall national budget, Thanathorn pointed out.
At Thursday’s meeting, he inquired about the wide gap between estimated and actual spending of Palace agencies from 2018-2021.
Budget Bureau records show that the estimated spending for fiscal 2018 was 4.19 billion baht, but actual spending was 52.5 per cent higher at 6.39 billion.
The estimated expenditure for fiscal 2019 was 4.69 billion baht while actual spending was 6.8 billion; the estimate for fiscal 2020 was 5.04 billion while actual spending was 7.68 billion, and the estimate for 2021 is 5.41 billion, but Palace agencies are seeking 8.98 billion.
Budget Bureau deputy director Viyada Chotrattanasiri explained to Thanathorn that the government had issued an emergency decree last year to transfer security units from the Ministry of Defence to Palace supervision, so that added about two billion baht to the Palace agencies’ budget in the current fiscal year.
Excluding that amount, the budget was actually down by 833 million baht, she noted.
For fiscal 2021, the ministry had cut its budget by 1.3 billion baht while the budget for personnel of Palace agencies had risen by 1.29 billion baht, she said.
Thanathorn said he had questioned the increasing budget allocation by the government to Palace agencies, which is on a sharp upward trend until fiscal 2024, with current estimates rising to 10.69 billion baht and the potential of actual spending overshooting the estimate.
He called for a cut in the budget allocation for Palace agencies in line with the overall national budget, saying he was concerned about the fallout of Covid-19 on common people, public debt and dwindling tax revenue.
As of Monday afternoon, Thanathorn’s Facebook post on the Palace budget had got over 59,000 likes, 3,900 comments and 15,000 shares.
Thanathorn’s request comes as anti-government protesters put pressure to reform the monarchy, in addition to demanding the drafting a new Constitution, ending government intimidation of people having divergent opinions, and dissolving Parliament.
THE NATION (THAILAND)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK