Last week the Thai parliament approved the first reading of the 2011 fiscal year budget bill. After consideration by a parliamentary panel the bill will be submitted for a second reading within 30 days.

The total budget comes to 2,070, 000,000,000 baht. Let’s just call that 2 trillion. This is a 22 percent increase in spending, presumably aimed at both shoring up political support, including among nervous coalition partners, and maintaining Thailand’s strong recovery from the global financial crisis, a task made more difficult by the turmoil of recent months.

The details of the budget strategy are provided in Abhisit’s address to parliament. Some of the notable big-ticket categories are these (the item numbers refer to the numbers in the address):

  • 1.4 and 4.3 Agriculture: 138 billion (6.7% of the total budget)
  • 1.5 and 3.1 Education: 397 billion (19%)
  • 2.2 Defence: 165 billion (8%)
  • 3.3 Health: 211 billion (10%)
  • 4.6 Transport: 85 billion (4%)
  • 8.1 Funding for local administration: 130 billion (6%)

Education is a winner, with a 12 percent increase in funding as part of the government’s populist policy of “15 years of free education”. According to the Bangkok Post, Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat “argued an evaluation of the 15-year free education policy by stakeholders over the past year showed it was working well. Under the 2011 budget … the ministry would carry on the free education policy, the free lunch programme, and promote satellite and internet-based teaching for students upcountry to ensure their equal right to quality education was being met.”

Defence spending is about the same is in 2010, despite speculation that military would receive a generous reward for its crackdown on the redshirts. Perhaps there was not much more room for generosity after the significant increases in the military budget since the 2006 coup. Some high profile embarrassing military purchases may also have hindered the military cause. The Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon was quoted as saying that “compared with defence ministries in neighbouring countries, Thailand spent less on military affairs” and that “the budget was ‘very small’ given the military’s responsibility for securing the country.”

One interesting item (1.1) is 243 million baht to be spent on encouraging defence of the monarchy and promoting national reconciliation.

There are lots of other interesting details in the budget and I am sure there are many useful analyses and interpretations floating around. If you want to contribute to the discussion, post your comments here. Rest assured that attempts to divert the discussion onto pet topics (such as the horrors of Thaksin or the impending secession of Isan) will be quickly despatched to trash.