February 11, 2014 00:00
By Petchanet Pratruangkrai,
Farmers walk out as talks fail to fix payment crisis; want to seize PM's assets, warehouses
Frustrated by the government’s failure to find a solution for their debts – caused by the pledging scheme – rice farmers threatened yesterday to lay siege to state rice warehouses nationwide. Kittisak Rattanawaraha, president of the northern farmers, said the siege would seek to prevent the government from doing anything with “our rice”. He encouraged farmers across the country to join in the siege today. The threat was made after a high-profile meeting between the farmers’ representatives from 20 provinces with senior government officials could offer no solution for long-overdue payments owned to them under the pledging scheme.
Farmers have also called for the seizure of assets from caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and ministers involved the rice-pledging scheme to make up for their losses.
The farmers said they abandoned the meeting after being told to ask banks to release loans to the government so that they could pay the rice growers.
As they walked out, the farmers said they would continue their demonstrations and pressure the government to resign because it lacked the capability to handle its rice-pledging policy.
The meeting was held at the Defence Ministry, and joined by three caretaker ministers – Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan, Deputy Commerce Minister Natthawut Saikuar, and PM’s Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn.
The farmers abandoned the meeting after Niwatthumrong told them to ask the banks to release loans for the government so that it had money to pay the farmers for their rice.
He told the meeting the caretaker government could not borrow from the banks because protesters were blocking the banks.
‘No political agenda involved’
Rawee Rungreung, a leader of the farm protesters, said that all the farmers wanted was to get payment under the pledging scheme from the government. The farmers had no political agenda to destroy the government.
“If we [farmers] can get our overdue payment within a short period, we [will recommend] stopping the protest and going back home. But as the government [is not paying] us, we will continue our activities and pressure them to get out as [they do not have the] efficiency to administrate the country,” Rawee said.
A farmer interrupted the meeting by standing and saying: “I’m red shirt and I voted for Nuttawut. (However) I have quarrels with my family every morning because I now have no money. I’ve heard that the government will return the rice – I’m ok to receive back all 21 tonnes.”
He said he wondered why he voted for Pheu Thai Party because he could no longer rely on the government, and that all farmers were in a terrible situation.
Speaking after a conclusion was reached among farmers’ leaders, Rawee said farmers would today travel to several government-owned rice storage sites in certain central provinces to ask permission to inspect the rice’s quality. He did not reveal which provinces or how many sites the farmers would visit today.
Meanwhile, the Public Warehouse Organisation (PWO), a state-owned marketing arm of the Commerce Ministry, is negotiating with private companies overseas on buying rice from the government stocks.
Organisation president Chanudpakorn Vongseenin said the PWO was expected to conclude deals with some companies to sell rice in big lots in order to help the government raise money to pay the farmers. The private companies are from countries in Asean, and Europe, China, and the United States.