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Rice Pledging Scheme

Rice row could see Phichit leaders join Bangkok protest

UPSET AT THE breakdown of the rice-pledging scheme, local leaders in Phichit are considering joining the People's Democratic Reform Committee's anti-government protest to pacify farmers who have not been paid for their crops.

Payments to farmers participating in the ruling Pheu Thai Party's flagship populist programme have been delayed repeatedly for months.

The Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) has said the government has not yet approved an additional budget for the scheme, so it cannot pay the hundreds of thousands of farmers who have pawned their paddy. In Phichit alone, more than 40,000 farmers have gone unpaid.

Nearly 100 kamnans and village heads gathered at the BAAC's Phichit branch to demand updates on the scheme's payment and ask that the branch refrain from pressing farmers for repayments of loans they had to take out to cover expenses while waiting for their income from the scheme.

Some 300 kamnans and village heads also rallied in front of Phichit Provincial Administration Organisation. Many were discussing the idea of supporting the PDRC, which has staged mass demonstrations against the government for a couple of months, hoping to implement reform ahead of elections.

Kittisak Rattanawaraha, chairman of the Northern Farmers Network, said separately that farmers from five provinces would converge on Bangkok to rally against the government. "We will use 100 farm vehicles per province," he said.

In Angthong, more than 400 farmers submitted an ultimatum to Governor Pawin Chamniprasart to facilitate the payment for pledged rice by January 27.

"If there's no positive response, farmers across the province will stage a big demonstration," said Songpon Poonsawas, chairman of the Angthong Farmers Confederation.

Police have recommended that public prosecutors indict Kittipong Saenworakul for alleged embezzlement in the rice-pledging scheme.

The Public Warehouse Organisa-tion under the Commerce Ministry has accused Kittipong of failing to deliver more than 1,260 tonnes of rice to the scheme. Corruption has reportedly plagued the scheme, which has incurred huge losses.


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