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Thai junta pushes for speedy investment spending

[BANGKOK] Thailand's military government on Friday asked state-owned companies to accelerate investment spending after having disbursed just a quarter of the budget allotted for this fiscal year, the junta's latest effort to sustain economic momentum.

Southeast Asia's second-largest economy grew slightly more than expected in the March quarter, up 1.3 per cent on the quarter and 3.3 per cent on the year, led by exports and consumption. But it has lagged regional peers in recent years.

Government spending is crucial to driving the economy because private investment has yet to recover, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak told reporters.

"We want to make sure the economy will continue growing," he said, adding that first-quarter growth was also helped by state firms' investment.

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State enterprises spent a combined 82 billion baht (S$3.3 billion), or about 24 per cent of the total of 339 billion baht, in the first seven months of the current fiscal year, which started in October.

However, the State Enterprise Policy Office is sticking by its target of at least 95 per cent disbursement, Director-General Ekniti Nitithanprapas told reporters.

Among the slow spenders, the State Railway of Thailand had disbursed only 14.1 billion baht during the period from October to April, compared to its total budget of 59.7 billion baht, he said.

Airports of Thailand spent 2.75 billion baht during the period, versus its budget of 11.8 billion, he said.

Big-ticket government infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars have been slow getting off the ground.

The government expects to spend between 160 billion and 170 billion baht on infrastructure projects this year, Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said last month.