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1,800 rice warehouses to be checked

Team to check on size, quality of stock to allay rumours of 2.9m tonnes missing

The military government set up a 100-strong taskforce yesterday to inspect more than 1,800 warehouses nationwide to ensure transparency about the size and quality of the state rice stock.

Interior Ministry deputy permanent secretary Panadda Diskul, who is acting PM's Office permanent secretary, announced the setting up of the taskforce after chairing a meeting of the subcommittee overseeing inspections.

The inspection team will consist of representatives from the PM's Office, the Army, police, Interior, Commerce and Agricul-ture ministries, and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

The move comes in the wake of uncertainty over government stockpile levels after two years of the controversial rice-pledging project by the ousted Yingluck Shinawatra government.

The Finance Ministry's auditing committee has reported that about 2.9 million tonnes of rice is missing, creating a huge loss for the country.

But the Commerce Ministry insists no rice is missing and that there had been a misunderstanding during the delivery of rice from mills to warehouses.

The Commerce Ministry said there was about 13 million tonnes of rice stockpiled, with 4 million tonnes awaiting shipment to private rice traders under government-to-government contracts.

There is a rumour that some rice stocks have deteriorated in quality so the junta government needs to manage stockpiles efficiently.

The taskforce is scheduled to start its work this month, with no advance information to be given to local officers.

To ensure efficiency in the investigation, the PM's Office and the Commerce Ministry will train the taskforce members.

Panadda said the government was confident of obtaining a more accurate stockpile figure because many agencies had joined the investigation to ensure transparency.

The Commerce Ministry has ordered the suspension of government-to-government rice shipments during the investigation.

Panadda said the investigation report would be submitted to the committee on rice policy chaired by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

If there are signs of corruption, the wrongdoers need to face legal action, she said.

Prayuth said yesterday that the NCPO would not continue with the controversial rice-pledging scheme, and whether it is continued in the future remains to be seen. For now, he said, the NCPO would focus on helping farmers cut costs and increase production.

Separately, NACC member Prasart Pongsivapai said the commission had not yet considered the request filed by Yingluck's lawyer asking the NACC to investigate another eight witnesses from her side in the case of negligence related to the rice-pledging scheme that she is facing. He said he was not sure if the request would be on the NACC meeting agenda next week.


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