BANGKOK  - Thailand will spend more than $70 billion on infrastructure over the next five years, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said as she outlined the challenges facing the country after last year’s floods.
In an address late Friday to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand , Yingluck said her government would pursue an economic policy aimed at boosting domestic demand.
It would also “approve a five-year plan to invest around $72 billion in infrastructure and property enhancing Thailand’s long-term competitiveness and to improve the quality of life of Thai people,” she said, pointing to a planned high speed train line from Bangkok to the northern city of Chiang Mai.
Separately, she said the country would invest $11.4 billion in water management measures to ensure there was no repeat of the devastating floods which left more than 800 dead and deluged hundreds of thousands of homes. Last year’s disaster also hit supply chains for Japanese automakers and Yingluck said steps would be taken to protect investment zones and industrial areas.
The floods were her first test after taking office in August following her party’s resounding election victory. In response to a question, Yingluck said she did not believe the floods or an increase in the minimum wage would scare foreign away firms.
The rise from 215 baht to 300 baht ($10) a day takes effect on April 1 in Bangkok and six other wealthier provinces.
She stressed that the minimum wage had not been raised in more than 10 years.
When foreign companies “invest in Thailand they won’t see only the minimum wage packet, they see the long-term (potential) of Thailand and Thailand is still associated with its strategic location to connect to ASEAN and other countries in Southeast Asia,” she said.
The prime minister said the government was investing in infrastructure to improve logistics and she believed “we will keep the confidence of the investors.” Yingluck also stressed her commitment to reconciliation following the 2010 Red Shirt protests against the previous government which brought Bangkok to a standstill and left more than 90 people dead, mostly civilians, in clashes with soldiers.
“Reconciliation is very important. We want to see Thailand move forward,” she said, adding that it should come through dialogue in parliament rather than conflict on the streets.
The demonstrations came after years of political unrest that began months before a 2006 military coup that deposed Yingluck’s brother, prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is despised by the Bangkok elites but supported by many of the Red Shirts.
Asked how she would assess the fairness of the judicial system five years after the coup, to laughter and applause Yingluck replied: “I think you ask a very dangerous question.”