New Thai govt plans big boost for rural economy
Tue, Feb 12, 2008

BANGKOK - THAILAND'S new elected government plans a big spending boost targeting the rural poor while launching an ambitious building spree to upgrade the kingdom's infrastructure, officials said on Tuesday.

A draft policy outline, which Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej plans to present to parliament on Monday, calls for reviving many programmes that were gutted by the military after the 2006 coup against then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

'The overall picture of the government's policy platform is the extension of the pre-coup government's programmes. Some policies will be kept unchanged, while some will be improved to make them more complete,' said Mr Jakrapob Penkair, the minister attached to the premier's office.

A draft of the policy statement called for reviving many of Thaksin's most popular - and most controversial - policies, without estimating how much the programmes would cost.

Mr Samak's government plans to continue Thaksin's crackdown on illicit drugs, which sparked condemnation from human rights groups when it was first launched in 2003, when 2,000 people are believed to have died in extrajudicial killings.

The campaign was enormously popular among voters, especially in northern border provinces that had suffered from a surge in narcotrafficking from neighbouring Myanmar.

The draft calls for heavy new spending in rural areas, restoring Thaksin-era loan schemes suspended by the military; offering debt assistance to farmers; guaranteeing base commodity prices; and increasing protections against natural disasters.

Critics had blasted Thaksin's rural spending programme as handing out cash to poor voters, but anger over the military's suspension of the programmes was widely credited with helping to bring Thaksin's ally Samak to power in December elections.

The policy paper also called for continuing housing schemes and expanding a programme aimed at improving sales and marketing for products made in Thailand's rural heartland.

Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung had said on Tuesday that the government would consider granting some degree of self-rule to Muslim-majority provinces hit by bloody separatist unrest.

But the policy outline said the government would tackle the unrest by promoting 'understanding, outreach and development'.

The paper confirmed Mr Samak's plan to revive a sweeping upgrade of Thailand's infrastructure initiated by Thaksin, adding nine new rail lines to Bangkok's mass transit while overhauling the national rail system.

The proposal calls for new irrigation projects, improving sea ports and airports, and modernising the national logistics system.

Mr Samak's government said it would offer incentives for tourists and investors over the next two years, while continuing to encourage the use of alternative energy such as bio-diesel. -- AFP

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