Thailand To Build High-Speed Railway

BANGKOK (dpa) - The Thai cabinet has approved legislation allowing the government to raise almost $67 billion to finance infrastructure investments including a high-speed train project.

The bill, proposed by the Finance Ministry, is expected to be submitted for final approval by parliament next week, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said.

Opposition politicians and economists have criticized the special legislation as it allows the Finance Ministry to borrow above the annual budget for the next seven years, despite rules that limit public debt to less than 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

''These projects are expected to boost gross domestic product by 1 percent per year and create up to 500,000 jobs,'' said government spokesman Tossaporn Sereeraksa. ''The positive impacts will outweigh the negative ones,'' he said.

The infrastructure plan includes a high-speed train network that to be built parallel to existing rail lines operated by the state railway authority from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Hua Hin and Pattaya.

The new tracks could eventually link Thailand to China via a $7-billion high-speed railway planned through landlocked Laos, and through Malaysia to Singapore.

While there is a broad consensus that the rail project is feasible, many have objected to the off-budget borrowing.

''Broadly speaking, upgrading our railways is the right way to go, but the financing mechanism is outrageous,'' said former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, a deputy leader of the Democrat opposition party.

The bill would allow the government to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of disbursements of the 66.6-billion-dollar budget, raising questions about fiscal discipline under a government known for its heavy spending on populist policies.

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