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Much in the balance as court poised to rule on budget bill

If deemed ‘unconstitutional’ on Friday, badly needed investment will be stalled even longer

Jintana Panyaarvudh

The Constitutional Court is scheduled on Friday (February 7) to rule on the validity of the Bt3.2-trillion budget bill for fiscal 2020, which has been underway since October.

Some 193 members of parliament on both the government and opposition sides asked the court to weigh in on the matter after it was determined that at least two Bhumjaithai Party MPs had allowed colleagues to cast votes in their absence in favour of the bill.

There are concerns their actions could render the budget bill void.

The court has previously considered proxy voting, declaring a Bt2-trillion loan bill for an infrastructure project proposed by the Yingluck Shinawatra government in 2014 unconstitutional.

There is a key difference in the current matter, however. The loan bill was deemed unconstitutional because of both illegal proxy voting and its essential nature, viewed as unlawful. The court said it violated provisions for fiscal and budget affairs.

If the court judged the pending budget bill unconstitutional, the government could propose another one with adjustments that the House and Senate would have to approve.

But that outcome would delay disbursement of the budget, possibly until the second quarter – especially crucial in terms of badly needed investments amid a staggering economy.

Even if the bill is declared unconstitutional, the government is safeguarded against shutdown.

If the legislative processing of the annual budget bill is incomplete before the fiscal year starts, the government is legally permitted to draw on the regular obligations budget based on that of the previous year.

That means government employees would still be paid, but several major investment projects would remain stalled until the new bill comes into effect.

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