Abhisit steps into budget pork barrel spending row

Large sums set aside for coalition MPs' areas

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says he will intervene in a budget review to ensure fair distribution of funds in the wake of allegations that substantial sums have been set aside for provinces represented by coalition MPs.

Democrat MP Suwaroj Palang, also vice-chairman of a House committee vetting the 2011 budget bill, admitted that some committee members are baffled that large sums of money have been diverted to their provinces.

Some provinces have been given as much as 300 million baht.

"It is likely that the budget allocation is politically motivated and has something to do with the next election," he said.

The coalition Bhumjaithai Party, influenced by power broker Newin Chidchob, is the main target of the allegations raised by the opposition Puea Thai Party, according to a source.

Mr Abhisit will attend to the matter before the bill is debated in parliament on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr Suwaroj said.

"With the prime minister's intervention, the 2011 budget bill should be transparent and justified," he said.

The committee has slashed 33.45 billion baht from a total proposed 2.07 trillion baht in spending during the 2011 fiscal year starting on Oct 1.

The budget involves allocation of funds to local administrative organisations in certain provinces.

Under decentralisation, the government must hand over 35% of its fiscal expenditure to help local bodies pay for the increased responsibilities they will take on.

Mr Suwaroj said the National Decentralisation Committee chaired by Mr Abhisit is seeing to the matter.

The prime minister will look into distribution of budgets, especially to the provincial administrative organisations and see to it that the funds are properly allocated, he said.

Witthaya Buranasiri, opposition chief whip and deputy chairman of the committee vetting the bill, said there are a number of points to keep an eye on in next week's debate.

The opposition has a special interest in fund allocations for the so-called four strategies.

The committee wants to allocate an additional 5 billion baht in funds to build more roads, water resources, schools and provide farmers with agricultural subsidies.

Mr Witthaya said redundant projects worth about 400 million baht have been found in some provinces. The projects are being reviewed by Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwannakhiri, the panel chairman.

Puea Thai MP and committee member Yutthapong Charassathien said the budgets are concentrated in Phayao, Lop Buri, Nakhon Ratchasima, Loei and Pathum Thani. He said that the committee has tried to revise the budget and so far achieved nothing much.

"You have to ask the prime minister who let the cabinet members seek these budgets. It is not fair and we all know it," he said.

Puea Thai MP and panel member Suchart Lainam-ngern said the opposition will focus on budget allocations for the Interior Ministry and the Defence Ministry in the second reading of the budget bill.

He said that the budgets are diverted to provinces where MPs are prepared to defect to coalition partners.

Those provinces include Chiang Rai, Lampang and Nakhon Nayok.

"They are trading cash with MPs," he said.

Puea Thai MP Worawat Ua-apinyakul yesterday criticised the military budget of 170 billion baht and government attempts to block changes. He said committee members representing the government have been adamant about keeping the budget intact.

"The committee has slashed the budget by tens of millions of baht only. It's less than 1% of the total military budget," he said.