Ex-ministers defend Thailand's rice scheme via YouTube video

Ex-ministers defend Thailand's rice scheme via YouTube video

Four former ministers in the previous government led by Yingluck Shinawatra defended its rice-pledging scheme yesterday on her behalf via the YouTube video-sharing website.

The ministers answered all 35 questions posed by members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) during an inquiry session on Friday, as part of an impeachment process against Yingluck, who is accused by the National Anti-Corruption Com-mission of negligence leading to corruption.

Yingluck did not show up for the inquiry session and the NLA resolved not to allow her lawyers or representatives to answer the questions on her behalf.

Former deputy prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisal, former finance minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, former prime minister's office minister Varathep Ratanakorn, and former deputy commerce minister Yanyong Phuangrach answered the 35 questions posed by NLA members via YouTube. Niwatthamrong explained the necessity of the rice scheme - that it was Pheu Thai Party's campaign, while other parties had a similar campaign.

He said that governments in other countries support agricultural products by subsidising at least 50 per cent of the farmers' average income, while Thai state subsidies also cover agricultural products in addition to rice.

In regard to the graft case, Kittiratt said the government had 14 processes to prevent corruption, including a panel appointed to scrutinise and reduce risks that could affect the country.

"There was also a proposal to reduce the price of the rice scheme, but it was strongly opposed by farmers along with the opposition party leader," the former finance minister said.

He said every time the government was accused of corruption, they did not stay still and appointed a subcommittee to eradicate corruption, which was headed by former minister Chalerm Yoobamrung.

Kittiratt also claimed that the rice-pledging scheme did not affect business negatively, saying the country should also note the beneficial aspects of the project as well. One NLA question asked why the government insisted on continuing with the rice-pledging scheme when related agencies voiced opposition to it.

Niwatthamrong said: "The National Anti-Corruption Commis-sion [NACC] forwarded documents to the government, [but] it only showed suggestions about the case, and the government then has received those suggestions on improving the project and strengthening the plan to prevent corruption."

In regard to the Office of the Auditor General, the former deputy PM said after the statement of project opening OAG did not propose to cancel, but one document on January 1, 2014 includes cancelling the project, which then the government was defunct already.

Deputy Commerce Minister Varathep said the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI)'s claim that only one-fourth of farmers benefited from the rice scheme, but he did not understand how TRDI obtained such a figure, because up to 79 per cent of farmers received approximately Bt200,000 (S$8,145).

"The NACC and NLA must see the accused as innocent prior to going to the justice system and if there is not enough information for a case the accused should be released, not perceiving the accused as guilty from the start," Varathep said.

He insisted that the NLA could not pursue the impeachment process further, because the punishment for such an offence covers a five-year ban from politics, but the military government had stated that the 2007 Constitution was now defunct, and the NACC's claim they had the legal authority to proceed was not considered lawful. However, the former commerce minister claimed that the rice-pledging scheme also increased rice prices on the world market, but they needed to be higher.

Meanwhile, NLA member Kittisak Rattanawaraha accused Yingluck yesterday of disrespect for failing to acknowledge the questions beforehand. "The exam paper was not leaked," said Kittisak, who was a member of the panel that asked questions. The former PM's failure to attend and answer questions by herself, showed she could not bring notes to read as answers - because she did not know what she would be asked.

He explained that NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai had informed both the accused and accusers about the process earlier - that whoever comes on the first day must come to answer again. And both sides understood this clearly.

He also insisted that Yingluck had to come personally to answer the questions put by the assembly because the NLA had clearly sought her presence.

"It can be considered that Yingluck showed disrespect to the NLA, because each question was addressed directly to the accused", the subcommittee member said. Kittisak later urged the public to scrutinise this issue themselves, because the NLA had given an opportunity for the accused to come until 6pm on Friday, yet she did not show up

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