Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Thai PM plans to double grants to rural villages

AP , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that he planned to double government spending for a program that provides grants to rural villages as part of a stimulus package aimed at reviving the country’s ailing economy.

Abhisit, in a nationally televised address, also said he would step up the recruitment of college graduates for government jobs to offset rising unemployment and move ahead with plans to offer millions of low-income residents a one-time payment of 2,000 baht (US$57).

“The fire is burning fiercely in the house, so we cannot be too economical on the water we use for putting out the blaze,’’ he said.

Abhisit, who became prime minister last month, has made fixing the economy a priority. One of his first acts was to have his Cabinet approve a 115 billion baht economic stimulus package earlier this week.

He said a portion of the stimulus package would go toward reviving and expanding a village initiative launched by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

The popular program offered government grants to villages, which used the money for infrastructure projects like repairing roads and digging irrigation canals.

But critics contended it was little more than an effort to buy the loyalty of rural voters who supported Thaksin.

Thailand’s export-driven economy has been hit by the global slowdown as well as months of political unrest last year that scared off foreign investors and tourists.

The cash handouts, which were announced on Tuesday, have been blasted by critics who said it was a waste of money and a bid to win over skeptical rural voters.

Abhisit said the handouts would boost the buying power of poor consumers, while the government employment scheme would ensure new graduates were not left idle.

“We will help new graduates to find jobs quickly,’’ he said.

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