Thailand to kick start RM190b economic revamp before polls


BANGKOKThailand’s military government is looking to start construction of projects under a 1.5 trillion baht (RM190.35 billion) investment plan before the country’s possible return to democracy late next year.

Enabling laws for the so-called Eastern Economic Corridor initiative should be in place by the end of 2017 to bolster investor confidence, and construction of some of the planned infrastructure could begin next year, Kanit Sangsubhan, the secretary general of the office overseeing the plan, said in an interview.

“We’re in a rush,” Kanit said in Bangkok. “We want to make sure everything is ready by the time the new government comes in.”

The generals who seized power in 2014 view the eastern seaboard project as vital for wooing advanced industries and are adding railway, airport and port capacity, with plans for tax breaks to lure privatesector investment. One potential obstacle is the political risk that the next elected government could try to jettison the junta’s programmes — something that would be harder to do if legislation is in place and projects are underway.

The Eastern Economic Corridor is part of the two-decade national strategy being crafted by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to bolster SouthEast Asia’s second-largest economy, according to Kanit.

The strategy will provide a master plan for future governments to follow, Prayuth said in July. Werachon Sukondhapatipak, a government spokesman, said in March the strategy is part of the constitution and legally binding on future administrations.

While elections are possible by the end of next year based on the government’s road-map, an exact date has yet to be announced.

The plan for the corridor calls for a US$6 billion (RM25.38 billion) upgrade of U-Tapao International Airport, US$6.7 billion investment in railways, US$12 billion for new cities and hospitals, and US$15 billion for industry. The government expects about 80% of overall investment to come from the private sector.

If bidding for some projects is completed by mid-2018, construction can start later in the same year, Kanit said.

The government is seeking to develop sophisticated industries such as robotics, aviation maintenance and digital technology in the corridor’s three eastern provinces of Rayong, Chachoengsao and Chonburi. — Bloomberg