Government investigators have so far failed to identify who is involved in the recently uncovered scam to stockpile rice under the cover of the paddy-rice support programme, which was introduced by the previous Democrat-led government. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra asserted yesterday that the truth would be uncovered, but added that the recent raids on mills by investigators were not prompted by political motives to discredit Democrat politicians.
Malpractice is alleged to have been rife during the last crop season, when tax-payer’s money intended for the rice price intervention programme coordinated by the Public Warehouse Organisation (PWO), the marketing arm of the Commerce Industry, was siphoned off by rice traders, millers, exporters, politicians and civil servants.
Agriculture minister Chucheep Harnsawat commented that he believed malpractice was initiated by collusion between millers and farmers, who hoped to make more money by selling low quality paddy from the second crop to the programme. The millers were also engaged in their own scam, according to Harnsawat, posing as farmers and faking documents to sell their own stocks to the state agencies instead of buying newly harvested paddy from the farmers.
Investigation into the allegations prompted criticism on Saturday however, when Crime Suppression police spot-checked miller’s warehouses across 25 provinces. The prime minister believes that some millers have been inflating the stated amounts of rice stocks in order to secure more government funding, and the police were also under order to uncover rice stocks that are not registered with government agencies.
Former president of the PWO, Nibhond Wongtrangarn, responded by saying that while the government is right to check out the situation thoroughly, its use of police force was absolutely wrong. The prime minister argued however that the police were employed because there was not enough manpower at the PWO.
Pramote Vanichanont, president of the Thai Rice Mills Association, added that stock checks were “an insult” to millers who had been treated like criminals. A source from the same association added that he believed the raids to be an attempt to discredit those millers who had operated as Democrat canvassers in the last election.
The force was an insult to both the millers, who will now no longer cooperate with the government, and the provincial governors whose job it is to examine the rice stocks and report to the Commerce Industry, he argued.
The government must now act quickly to rebuild cooperation with millers, because their proposed boycott could seriously jeopardise the price of domestic paddy, already below 3,000 baht a ton.
For the upcoming season, Nibhond welcomed news that the certifying of farmers would be down to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) rather than the mills. Once accredited, the farmers will then be able to pledge their paddy with the PWO, at which point officials will examine the rice quality.
Shinawatra has promised to extend the current investigation into the inflated stocks of other crops, and he pledged to ensure transparency in the state’s intervention programme.