The Anti-government protest-leading monk Buddha Issara yesterday led a group of rice-paddy growers to submit a written plea to Justice Ministry permanent secretary Kittiphong Kittayarak asking him to help investigate the government’s controversial rice-pledging scheme and to indict the caretaker Cabinet over its alleged failures.
The letter, signed by Ravi Roungruang, a representative of farmers, urged Kittipong to release money from the rice programme to the farmers within a week. The ministry should check rice stocks to find out how much rice remains in the project, the letter said. The ministry should also freeze assets of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cabinet members to pay farmers who joined the rice-pledging scheme, it said.
Justice Ministry deputy permanent secretary Thawatchai Thaikiew took the letter on behalf of Kittiphong and told the farmers that the ministry would set up a screening committee to oversee the response to the petition. If the farmers wanted the Cabinet members and concerned officials to face criminal charges of fraud, they should notify police, Thawatchai said. If they wanted the Department of Special Investigation to take the case, they should ask the agency’s committee on special investigations to take it up, he said.
Buddha Issara said some 100 farmers had registered with the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to seek assistance. He asked farmers who had problems with the rice scheme to file their names with the protesters in order to act as a group to pressure the government.
Farmers throughout the country have expressed their will to join the anti-government protest to pressure the government to cough up more money from the scheme.
In northeastern Ubon Ratchathani province, Youngyuth Navaniyom, a 45-year-old farmer, said he had received no money from the project since pledging rice in November last year. Farmers from three districts in the province who had the same problem agreed recently to travel to Bangkok to join the anti-government protest, he said.
Phuwanai Koboun from Ubon Ratchathani’s Natan district said he was supposed to get more than Bt100,000 from his pledged five tonnes of rice long ago. If the government could not pay farmers, it should sell the rice to get money for the payments, he said.
However, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives’ Khemmarat branch in the province said some farmers in Ubon Ratchathani had received some payments from the rice scheme. Some Bt10 million was paid last week, according to the bank’s assistant manager Nilas Leunam. But the timing of the next round of payment was uncertain, as the government has not yet fed the money into the system, he said.
Farmers in northern Uttaradit province have the same problem. They were running out of cash for daily consumption and for investment in their next crop. Some have put their vehicles up as collateral to borrow cash from local lenders while waiting for money from the government’s scheme.