THE Office of Auditor-General has insisted that there have been no irregularities in recent sales of state-owned rice totalling 2.8 million tonnes as the government clears up its huge inventory resulting from the previous government’s rice-pledging scheme.
Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiro-pas said the government’s rice-quality grading and bidding methods used in selling off the final stock of 2.8 million tonnes was credible based on the office’s observations, since experts from other trade and industry bodies were also involved in the process.
His remarks followed Pheu Thai Party complaints that the process had been manipulated, resulting in low prices for the rice sold. High-grade rice, which was fit for human consumption and would bring higher prices, had been graded with lower-quality rice for feedmill and energy-generation use, Pheu Thai members said.
Yuttapong Charassathien, a former deputy agriculture minister of the Pheu Thai Party, said the complaint was officially submitted to the auditor-general on July 14, but there was no response so the party would follow up on the issue.
Yuttapong added that the party’s action was not related to the upcoming Supreme Court verdict due on August 25 regarding former premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s alleged negligence of official duties while implementing the rice-pledging scheme and resulting in corruption and massive financial losses to the state.
Yuttapong said the party’s move should not be seen as politically motivated. During the tenure of former premier Yingluck, a total of 18 million tonnes of rice was pledged by the government. Over the past several years, the huge rice inventory has been sold to the private sector at significant losses since the government paid farmers up to Bt15,000 per tonne against the then-prevailing price of Bt7,000-8,000 per tonne.
The last 2.8 million tonnes of rice have been sold via bidding this year, of which 2.1 million tonnes were classified as C-grade rice, not suitable for human consumption, and bringing a low price for feedmill and energy use.
Pisit said he was not sure if it was feasible for the government to grade the rice more specifically since the volume was huge. In addition, he said, new rice harvests were coming onto the market, so farmers could be affected in terms of pricing if there was a large supply of old rice for human consumption.
The poultry industry also disposes of baby chickens in the sea when there is an oversupply of chicken in order to ease downward pressures on domestic chicken prices, Pisit said.
However, Yuttapong said the Pheu Thai Party would not stop exposing alleged irregularities in the government’s handling of rice sales.