Opening remarks by Ahmed M. Saeed, ADB Vice-President, Operations 2, at the First Policy Platform Meeting, 9 August 2021

Your Excellency Khun Arkhom Termpittayapaisith,

ADB Executive Director Khun Warotai,

Distinguished participants from Thailand’s Public Debt Management Office and Fiscal Policy Office,

My ADB colleagues.

Good morning to all of you.

I am pleased to participate in the first Policy Platform meeting of Thailand COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support, or CARES Program. Thank you Khun Arkhom, ED Waratai and other distinguished colleagues for taking time for this conversation.  We know that Thailand, indeed the world, is the midst of yet another COVID-19 pandemic wave, and we hope this time will be well spent.

I would like to make some brief remarks about the CARES program first, and then will comment on ADB’s broader program of engagement in Thailand. Let me begin with CARES, which aims to support the Government of Thailand’s pandemic response in three key areas: (i) healthcare services; (ii) cash handouts and financial aid; and (iii) economic rehabilitation.

Our objective as always is to provide both capital and actionable insights, and this Policy Platform was established as part of the CARES Program with three goals in mind.  First, so that we could together assess and, if needed, consider adjustments to the Government’s pandemic response.  Second, to foster a broader discussion on the Government’s fiscal response, public health, gender equity, and medium-term measures to support the poor and vulnerable.  Finally, and quite critically, we also aim to utilize the Platform to discuss post-COVID-19 economic recovery plans.

The Government started utilizing the CARES Program proceeds from January 2021, and we commend you for the comprehensive support program to address the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Resources under the ADB’s CARES Program are being integrated with the Government’s own resources for that program, and it is good to see progress being made in the three areas I noted earlier, namely health services, financial aid/cash handouts, and economic rehabilitation. Distribution of financial aid and cash handouts for enterprises as well as the poor and vulnerable has been especially effective from a development perspective, and we look forward to working together with you to help drive more allocation and disbursement of funds on health care services and economic rehabilitation. 

We would like to take this opportunity to use today’s meeting to discuss a few proposed and ongoing areas of collaboration between ADB and Thailand, as part of our new Country Partnership Strategy. Among others, three areas are noteworthy: climate change and green recovery; domestic resource mobilization; and tourism sector recovery.   These are also critical for Thailand’s social and economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.

On climate change particularly, it is worth keeping in mind that the current COVID-19 crisis can be considered as simply a dress rehersal for a larger looming climate crisis.  We need to assess where our institutions, individually and collectively, have been successful and where we have fallen short, and we will need to take corrective measures as needed.  The two other ares of our CPS focus – tourism and domestic resource mobilization, will also be critical going forward.  Tourism will be back, but the path to 2019 levels and beyond will not be simple or easy, and much be done to protect domestic industry.  And, while Thailand does a much better job than many of its peers in mobilizing domestic savings for productive use, like many other countries around the world its government capacity is constrained by a narrow tax base – in Thailand’s case, 17.2% of GDP, according to OECD data.  ADB has recently established a new hub on domestic resource mobilization issues in Asia – the first of its kind – and we look forward to working with your government in this area.  

Please know that as your government continues the fight to address the pandemic’s challenges, ADB stands ready to help. We hope for a dynamic and interactive discussion today, one that will help identify priorities and new avenues of support that will help Thailand emerge from this crisis as a stronger, more resilient, and more sustainable as a nation – much like it has done when faced with other historic challenges.  We also wish to learn from Thailand’s experiences in managing the pandemic, which can be shared with other countries.

Your Excellency, in closing, I would like to thank the Government of Thailand, and in particular, the Ministry of Finance’s Public Debt Management Office, for their excellent cooperation during the preparation and implementation of the CARES program. Today’s meeting would not have been possible without their invaluable leadership and cooperation. 

I look forward to today’s discussions.

Thank you.