Thailand Names New Finance Chief to Bolster Sluggish Economy

Pichai Chunhavajira Takes Over as Economic Growth Slows

by Victor Adetimilehin

Thailand’s government has appointed a new finance minister, Pichai Chunhavajira, a seasoned energy executive, in a bid to jumpstart the nation’s sluggish economic growth. Pichai, 75, inherits a challenging portfolio as he replaces Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who previously held the finance minister position. He will also assume the role of deputy prime minister.

Thailand’s economy, the second-largest in Southeast Asia, is facing a confluence of headwinds. Growth has slowed significantly, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) unexpectedly contracting in the final quarter of 2023. Household debt in Thailand remains stubbornly high, and borrowing costs are on the rise. The slowdown in China, a major trading partner for Thailand, is also impacting the country’s economic performance.

Stimulus Package Divides Opinions

The government is looking to stimulate economic activity with a proposed 500 billion baht ($14 billion) handout scheme. This controversial plan would provide a one-time payment of 10,000 baht ($270) to each of Thailand’s estimated 50 million citizens. However, the scheme has been met with delays due to concerns about funding and its potential impact on public debt. Economists and former central bank officials have criticized the plan, arguing that it is fiscally irresponsible.

The Bank of Thailand (BOT), the country’s central bank, has also disagreed with the government’s approach. The BOT has resisted calls to cut interest rates, arguing that such a move could exacerbate inflation. This disagreement highlights a potential policy rift between the government and the central bank, which is typically seen as independent.

New Leadership, New Direction?

Analysts believe that Pichai’s extensive experience and political connections could be instrumental in improving communication and policy coordination between the government and the central bank. Pichai holds a master’s degree in business administration and boasts a long history in Thailand’s energy sector, having served as chairman of the board of Bangchak Corp, a major Thai energy company, for over a decade. He also served on the boards of the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the Bank of Thailand, giving him valuable insights into both the financial markets and monetary policy.

Pichai’s appointment comes at a critical juncture for Thailand’s economy. His success will depend on his ability to address the country’s economic challenges on multiple fronts. He will need to find ways to stimulate growth without adding to the national debt burden. Additionally, he will need to bridge the policy divide between the government and the central bank to ensure a coordinated approach to economic management.

Focus on Collaboration and Long-Term Solutions

While the proposed stimulus package remains a contentious issue, Pichai is expected to focus on fostering collaboration between the government and various stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society organizations. Developing long-term solutions to address high household debt and promote sustainable economic growth will likely be a top priority for the new finance minister.

Thailand’s economic outlook remains uncertain. However, Pichai’s appointment brings a wealth of experience and potentially a fresh perspective to the table. His ability to navigate the complex economic landscape and bridge policy divides will be crucial in determining Thailand’s economic trajectory in the coming years.

Source: Reuters

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