February 04, 2014 00:00 By Erich Parpart, Petchanet Prat
The caretaker Commerce Ministry will try to release 500,000 tonnes of rice from its stockpiles via auction next week, while Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan says he has approved the sale of another 860,000 tonnes.
This is to ensure that the government will earn additional of Bt10 billion this month to fund the rice-pledging project. It has come under heavy pressure from farmers over delayed payments for their crops, but faces restrictions on fund-raising because of its caretaker status.
Niwatthumrong said the ministry had already returned Bt180 billion to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, which is responsible for financing the programme.
The ministry has also drawn up a plan to sell rice to the Philippines after Vietnam just won a bid with Manila to supply 500,000 tonnes of rice.
Krungthai Bank’s board yesterday refuted “misleading” reports on social networks that it would provide loans for the rice-pledging project.
Payungsak Chartsutipol, chairman of KTB’s board of executive directors, said he had not received any proposal from bank president Vorapak Tanyawong on this matter. Vorapak has also previously denied rumours that KTB’s board would consider such a loan.
Though it is a state-owned bank, KTB is a listed company and regulated by the Bank of Thailand, and therefore will comply with the law and good-governance practices, Payungsak said.
He also denied that caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong had ever asked him about a loan for the project, and pointed out that no news on this matter had reached him yet because it had to pass through management.
“Whatever agenda the board discusses will be proposed by the management, and the board meeting [on Tuesday] will contain a normal agenda,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Public Debt Management Office cancelled a meeting scheduled for yesterday with financial institutions to discuss the legal issues in regard to loans for the pledging project.
The Office of the Auditor-General on Friday warned Kittiratt that the government should strictly comply with the law in regard to funds for the rice-pledging scheme, according to the Isara news agency.
“The office was worried [about] operations of the government and related agencies involving the rice-pledging project. Securing funds to pay for paddy pledged in the 2013-14 main crop would have to comply with the law and not be against the Constitution. If the action of seeking funds is found to breach the law, those who approve [such action] or who are involved with the action will take responsibility for damages that may occur,” Isara said, citing the office’s letter to the caretaker finance minister. In another letter dated January 30 to caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the office said the government should consider suspending the pledging project for the next crop after problems had been found with every process of the scheme, resulting in several hundreds of billions of baht in revenue losses.