February 21, 2014 00:00 By Petchanet Pratruangkrai
About 10,000 to arrive in capital today in bid to push govt to resign; leader rules out siege of airport
Tens of thousands of farmers, travelling on more than 1,000 farm tractors in a long convoy from the upper northern and central provinces, will today arrive in Bangkok and move to Suvarnabhumi Airport in a concerted attempt to pressure the caretaker government to resign.
They believe the government’s exit would remove the legal hurdle impeding funding for the rice-subsidy project.
Meanwhile, another group of farmers plans to file a petition with the Office of the Ombudsman, demanding a probe into the government’s rice-pledging scheme, as corruption is suspected to be the reason for the inability to pay the farmers.
Former Chart Thai Pattana Party MP Chada Thaiset, who represents Uthai Thani farmers, led some 15,000 farmers from Uthai Thani, Ayutthaya, Singburi and Ang Thong to Bangkok.
“I decided to lead the convoy because I feel sorry for the farmers and I am fed up with the government’s lies about the payment, which never came,” said Chada, whose party is a coalition partner of the Pheu Thai-led caretaker government.
Some farmers would be heading to Suvarnabhumi Airport, for a purpose he did not specify. But, they insisted that they would not obstruct air traffic or raid the airport. They only wanted to make a symbolic demonstration. After that, this group of farmers will move to other places.
Rawee Rungrueng, leader of the Thai Rice Farmers Network, said farmers will try many methods to pressure caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cabinet to resign soon as that would be the fastest solution to secure payments.
“The farmers want the Office of the Ombudsman to help inspect rice warehouses to check whether there is rice in stockpiles, as well as investigate corruption,” said Rawee.
He said they would stay overnight at Rangsit and enter Bangkok today.
Meanwhile, the Central Administrative Court yesterday accepted for judicial review a petition filed by a farmer against the Commerce Ministry.
Lamyai Srithong had petitioned the court on January 30, seeking damages from the ministry for its failure to pay for the rice she had sold under the price-pledging scheme. She had obtained a receipt for the pledged rice but later the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) refused to cash her receipt.
The petition names the Finance Ministry, the Budget Bureau, the National Economic and Social Development Board and the BAAC as co-defendants.
The court gave the defendants 30 days to submit their statements and their lists of witnesses and documents.
A leader of Lop Buri-based farmers, Ubolsak Bualuangngarm, said the farmers would blockade the capital for seven days if the government failed to pay them. He, however, said they would not cooperate with the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee in its drive to oust the government. He also asked capital residents to stockpile food supplies for seven days.
“If the government wants to disperse farmers’ protests or arrest us, we are all ready to die, and donate our bodies,” he said.
He added that the farmers travelling with this convoy would be joined by those travelling from the Northeast and the West, who are expected to reach Bangkok today.
Farmers based in Uthai Thani, who had said that they would camp out at the Commerce Ministry north of Bangkok, vowed yesterday not to return home if they did not get paid. The others travelling in the convoy, which was also using outbound Asia Route lanes against the regular traffic, are from Chai Nat, Sing Buri and Lop Buri. Although the caretaker government has attempted to find money, without full authority it cannot raise Bt130 billion still owed to several million farmers. “If the caretaker government decides to quit, I can assure the farmers should get their money in a short time,” he added.
So far, only about 1-2 per cent of farmers in many provinces have been paid after Yingluck had promised to pay them off from Monday.
Farmers fear that if the current government continued to manage the pledging project, they would have to wait for several more months or even a year to receive their money.
“Hence, we will continue to pressure the crippled caretaker government to resign,” emphasised Rawee.
Chada said the convoy would leave Bangkok for the farmers’ homes once they were all paid.
Chart Thai Pattana Party adviser Somsak Prissanananthakul said Chada’s role as a leader of the farmers would not affect his party’s relationship with the ruling Pheu Thai Party.
Meanwhile, a group of pro-government people led by former transport minister Prasert Chantra-ruangthong yesterday deposited their money – a total of Bt30 million – in the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) in Nakhon Ratchasima amid continuing withdrawal of deposits from the Government Savings Bank (GSB).
GSB customers withdrew from the bank, as they disagreed with the bank’s granting of a loan to BAAC to fund the rice-pledging scheme. GSB lost net deposits totalling Bt60 billion in three days, from February 17-19.