Community currency system poses 'no threat to baht'
Date: 04/26/2000
Publication: The Nation

Community currency system poses 'no threat to baht'

ALL parties concerned concluded yesterday that the community currency is not a threat to the baht.

The legality problem arose less than a month after a community in Yasothon province experimented with an alternative community currency. Villagers who experimented with Bia Kud Chum (Kud Chum Pence) had heard rumours that the Bank of Thailand would sue them for violating the 1958 Currency Act.

Speaking in a personal capacity at a symposium on the subject at Chulalongkorn University, Somlak Jiranburana, an administrator at the Bank of Thailand's Northeastern Region Branch, said he saw no problem with introducing the community currency.

"We must look into the intent, and the intent is to foster production, which is appropriate given the time and context."

Somlak said he saw no threat to the baht as the use of the community currency was limited to the community level.

"This is really more like the food coupons used in Bangkok, only valid in certain venues, or a Central [department store] card where you can accumulate credits that allow you to buy more. The only difference is that the community's aim is to foster production."

Jeff Powell, an adviser to the project, funded by Japan Foundation's Asia Centre and supported by the Local Development Institute (LDI), said it was impossible to mistake the notes, which are in one-, five-, 10-, 20- and 50-baht denominations, for real baht because their colour, size and paper was different. The equivalent of Bt30,000 has been issued by the community so far.

Two signatures appear on the bia kud chum notes, one of a local abbot and the other of a senior community leader. Powell said each of the 120 members could ask for an interest-free loan of no more than the equivalent of Bt500.

But he added that the Thai Community Currency Project had been on hold for a week. "We're waiting for a decision from the central bank," he said.

Mun Sarmsi, village headman of Baan Sokkumpoon in Kud Chum district, said the currency was meant not to undermine the baht at all but to encourage people to work and produce.

"It's a thinking process that slows down the tide of consumerism," he said.

Social critic Sulak Sivaraksa stressed that a community currency fostered trust, adding: "We could look at it either as a form of barter or as a sign that people are losing their trust in government-issued money."

Sulak called for attention and support from the Bank of Thailand and not suppression and persecution of the community.

While the Kud Chum experiment is new for Asia, Luis Lopezllera Mendez, a proponent of community currency at the international level cited in his paper "A Local Global Movement for Community Currencies" pertinent experiences in North, South and Central America.

In Argentina 60,000 people formed such a network in Buenos Aires. Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela are also experimenting with community currency. In Africa, Senegal is taking the lead.

"Alternative currency is communitarian, is rooted, is environmentally sound, is local, is small; it enhances creative labour, learning and social links," Mendez writes. It also creates "healthy money" under social control and without interest and usury in a world where unemployment and lack of income for the many are chronic while speculators can earn US$1 billion a night speculating on money without having to produce even a single penny.

Nevertheless the 120 villagers of Kud Chum are keeping their fingers crossed, waiting to see what the Bank of Thailand does next.

Somchai Homlaor, attorney of law and an human rights advocate, insists these villagers are not breaking any law. "Even the United Nations has a convention on the rights for community to make their economy sustainable,"Somchai added.

The Nation

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