The government should address loopholes in auditing its annual fiscal budget, as they are a source of problems hindering transparency, appropriate budget allocation and financial prudence, say academics.
Nipon Poapongsakorn, a distinguished fellow at the Thailand Research Development Institute (TDRI), said the government should submit a budget to carry out its policies for parliamentary approval as opposed to the current procedure that allows the government to borrow an unlimited amount for its off-budget financing.
Unrestricted lending has led to budget misallocation for inappropriate usage instead of national development programmes, he said.
The 2-trillion-baht infrastructure overhaul, initiated by caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, is an example of offbudget borrowing. A borrowing bill for the projects is now being challenged as to its constitutionality and has been criticised by academics for its lack of financial viability and transparency.
Deliberation of both the annual fiscal budget and off-budget financing simultaneously would make members of parliament (MPs) more aware of budget limitations, said Mr Nipon. MPs would be likelier to allocate appropriate budgets and enact policies aimed at national development.
He said the government should report its policies in a transparent manner without claiming they are classified trade information, as the government uses taxpayer money to carry out these policies.
The government should also assess its policy choices to determine their effectiveness, said Mr Nipon.
The political turmoil has caused both Thai and foreign investors to lose confidence in investing in large-scale projects over the medium and long term, he said.
Somchai Jitsuchon, the research director for inclusive development at the think tank, said there are structural problems with the fiscal budget, as the infrastructure development projects and social welfare programmes do not address future consequences. The budget also lacks auditing, and off-budget funds are not disclosed.
Mr Somchai suggested the government raise budget spending restrictions to set a cap on using its funds for certain policies such as rice pledging.
Ammar Siamwalla, a distinguished scholar at the TDRI, said an audit standard should be ratified for government programmes in the budget to clarify accountability and enhance transparency.
The government has the right to implement extreme populist policies given its mandate but should review these policies and whether they have incurred substantial losses, he said.
First published: Bangkok Post, February 25, 2014