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Angry farmers to protest as government misses another payment promise

GROUPS OF MORE than 2,000 farmers from the North will escalate their protests after the caretaker government failed to meet its promise to pay for the pledged rice yesterday by the deadline.

The farmers said they would block the Asia 117 route from Phitsanulok to Nakhon Sawan.

Today the Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) will hold a press conference on the rice-pledging scheme case, naming those against whom it will press charges.

Prasart Phongsivapai, a member of anti-graft body, said yesterday the charge of corruption in the rice-pledging project could cover Phum Saraphon, the former deputy commerce minister as well as former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom in addition to some senior officials at the ministry and private companies involved in the deal.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was not included, as she was never under investigation over the scheme, he said.

However, the charged officials could continue in their posts until the anti-graft body found grounds to indict them, he said.

The move follows farmers' disappointment at the delay in payment for the pledged rice. The government had promised to release the funds yesterday. Farmers at Phichit yesterday stood in line to receive their payment for the 2013-14 harvest season from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, but they did not receive it. They have kept their rice sales certificates for two months, which show only Bt180 million was paid to them on Monday, according to a reporter.

Phichit's group of farmers will lead the protest along with others from Nakhon Sawan, Sukhothai, Kamphaengphet and Phitsanulok.

Yesterday, Warong Dechgitvi-grom, a former Democrat Party MP at Phitsanulok, urged the farmers to oust caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, instead of waiting in a vain hope for the payment of Bt130 billion for the pledged rice.

"The government cannot do as it promised...It's now the fourth time, saying it would pay for the pledged rice by the exact date [the government had said it would pay by January 15]," he said.

Caretaker Deputy Finance Minister Tanusak Lekuthai yesterday conceded the government could not pay all farmers for the pledged rice by yesterday as promised, "due to the difficulty of the process".

The BAAC has gradually paid the farmers Bt3 billion a day. However, he said the government believed it could use the BAAC's liquidity first, in line with the Cabinet meeting's previous approval.

The funds for the pledged rice have come from sales of rice, the government's budget and BAAC's liquidity.

Since 2011 to 2013, the Yingluck government has sold about 10 million tonnes of rice on a government-to-government (G-to-G) contract basis. Since the 2011 deal, the Commerce Ministry claimed it could earn almost Bt180 billion in rice sales under G-to-G contracts with many countries, as well as those from sales under the bidding basis, opened for rice traders.

However, the government has never disclosed any clear information about the G-to-G rice deals, claiming it would affect the trading partner's security.

Observers estimate the government has faced some losses from the G-to-G rice deals. Moreover, during the time the government made deals with the partners, the world rice price fell. The cost of pledged rice is now higher than the market price.

Countries that were said to strike G-to-G rice deals were China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, and countries in Africa.

Meanwhile, the Agricultural Futures Exchange of Thailand (AFET) has postponed the bidding for rice from the state's stockpiles from yesterday to next Tuesday in response to demands of rice traders.

The rice for bidding will include white rice 5 per cent and jasmine rice 100 per cent grade B from the 2013-14 harvest season, and the bidding price will rely on AFET's first trading of 2014.


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