Court proceeds with B2.2trln loan case

The Constitution Court has ordered the petitioners and defendants in a case over the constitutionality of a bill seeking to empower the Finance Ministry to acquire 2.2 trillion baht in loans to finance transport infrastructure development projects to submit their closing statement to the court by Feb 27 after hearing testimony from five financial and budgetary experts.

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The five experts were Patarachai Chuchuay, representative of the auditor-general; Pisith Lee-artham, former deputy finance minister and former member of the constitution drafting assembly; deputy permanent secretary for finance Supa Piyajitti; former finance minister Tanong Bidaya; and former finance minister Teerachai Phuvanartnaranubala.

In this case, Democrat Party members and supporters filed a petition under Section 154 of the constitution for the Constitution Court to rule whether the 2.2 trillion baht loan bill contravenes Sections 169 and 170 of the constitution. Named defendants in the case are the prime minister and the cabinet.

The court asked Mr Patarachai about the Office of the Auditor General's power.  He said once the bill becomes law his office would be able to examine the spendings on various projects under the legislation.

Mr Pisith told the court that the bill contravened provisions in Chapter 8 of the 2007 constitution which clearly stated that government expenditure must be allocated under the Budget Act to ensure transparency and accountability.  He said the loans to be sought under the bill would become a burden on taxation in the future.

Mr Tanong, a former finance minister, when asked if money from loans could be regarded as a state budget, said the intention of the bill was to obtain funding outside the state budget that would be spent by the Transport Ministry without being subject to scrutiny under normal budgetary procedures.

Former finance minister Teerachai said the money to be acquired under the bill should be first handed over to the state, otherwise the spending of it could go against the intention of the constitution.

Ms Supa, a deputy permanent secretary for finance, said the bill, if allowed to go in force, would completely ruin the existing monitoring systems and projects under this legislation would not be subject to scrutiny by parliament.

The court ordered the two sides in the case to submit their closing statements by Feb 27.

The 2.2 trillion baht loan bill was controversially passed by the House and the Senate, but has been stalled since the Democrat Party petitioned for a ruling from the charter court on its constitutionality.

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