Democrat attacks PM, govt over rice scheme

Warong

THAILAND - Democrat MP Warong Dechgitvigrom yesterday attacked Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government over alleged corruption in the rice-pledging scheme.

On the second day of the censure debate against Yingluck and Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan, Warong alleged corruption in the programme's processes, related to government announcements of rice sales to poor people at Bt70 (S$2.73) a bag, especially from the Public Warehouse Organisation stock. He referred to a PWO report that it had 600,000 tonnes, but the Democrat found that the rice in its stocks had not reached poor people.

He came up with a long list of the government's processes that he called dubious, and called for "an end to the rice-pledging scheme and an end to the current government".

He asked Yingluck, who he said also chaired the National Rice Policy Committee, to answer three questions.

l Why did the National Rice Policy Committee approve the pledging scheme on four occasions in 2012 and 2013?

l Why were no contracts signed binding the rice mills to have work done within a stipulated time?

l Why did PWO officers not sign their names on six contracts, related to PWO approval in December 2012, when 1.8 million tonnes of its rice stock was withdrawn?

He said the government sold paddy rice from PWO stocks to three mills - Chia Meng Rice Mill, Choke Woraluck Rice Mill and Singto Thong Rice Mill in Kamphaeng Phet.

Then the three mills sold the rice to three brokers at Bt65.60 a bag, and the brokers went on to sell it to the public at Bt70 a bag.

"During a meeting of the ad hoc committee, two rice brokers admitted that they had no experience of managing rice.

"So they sold the rice back to rice mills. An exclusive committee of a Siamrak rice broker has the same last name as the vice president of the PWO," he said.

He charged the government with collusion in managing the rice-pledging scheme. He also alleged that Singto Thong Rice Mill in Kamphaeng Phet was being influenced and had the backing of a minister, who was a close aide of "Jae D".

In response, PM's Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn said Warong could not accuse him of any wrongdoing, as he had no involvement.

"If he has evidence of my involvement, I'll be happy to respond," he said.

Meanwhile, Yingluck said the rice-pledging scheme was transparent, there was no corruption, and it had helped farmers increase their savings.

"I never knew the name of rice mills and brokers, contrary to what the opposition claims. I would have ordered an investigation if there was any corruption," she said.

She denied that she chaired the National Rice Policy Committee and said she had assigned the duty to Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan.