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Rice-pledging Scheme

Farmers take PM to court

In separate legal challenge, charter court ruling to be sought on legitimacy, term of Cabinet

THE Central Administrative Court yesterday accepted a complaint lodged on behalf of a group of rice farmers by public prosecutors, accusing the caretaker prime minister and six government agencies of failing to pay them under the rice-pledging scheme.

The 22 farmers are also demanding payment owed to them for the pledging of seeds, which totals more than Bt2.7 million, plus a 7-per-cent interest on the amount counting from yesterday.

Senior prosecutor Porames Indhara-chumnum said up to 600 farmers were seeking to lodge a lawsuit with the Administrative Court through the Office of the Attorney General. Another class act by a separate group of 20 rice farmers in Chai Nat and Sing Buri would be lodged tomorrow.

In response to calls that public prosecutors should not be defending caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra and government agencies who are responsible for the farmers' suffering, Porames said prosecutors had three roles, one of which was defending people's rights. In this case, he said, prosecutors could act as middlemen between the agencies and the farmers, thus making negotiations and payment easier.

The six agencies under fire are the National Rice Policy Committee, the Commerce Ministry, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, the Public Warehouse Organisation, the Marketing Organisation for Farmers and the Finance Ministry, Porames said. He added that these agencies came under the Administrative Court's jurisdiction.

A large number of rice farmers are also planning to file lawsuits with the Civil Court, with the help of anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), to seek payment and compensation.

The Senate committee on Fiscal, Financial, Banking and Monetary Institutes, yesterday called a meeting of government agencies involved in the approval of Bt20 billion from the central budget, that will be paid to the farmers, to see if the practice was legal. Many officials could not answer several questions raised by the panel members, who said another meeting was needed to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Trade Department has signed a contract with the Chinese government's state-owned enterprise COFCO for selling it a million tonnes of rice under a government-to-government (G2G) deal.

The deal came after the department's director-general Surasak Riangkrul went on a two-day official trip to Beijing yesterday.

Under the contract, he said, Thailand will sell a million tonnes of mixed types of rice at a free-on-board (FOB) price. The rice delivery will be completed in 12 months. Of that, the first lot of 400,000 tonnes will be delivered from March to July. By the end of this month, about 100,000 tonnes of rice should be delivered. "The government is now in talks with other countries for selling rice and expects that Thailand will see more successful G2G deals soon," Surasak said.

Meanwhile, the opposition Democrat Party, a group of senators and the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) will soon ask the Constitutional Court to clarify the status of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck after the House of Representatives failed to convene within 30 days of the national election, as required by Article 127 of the Constitution.

Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri said the article cannot apply to the current caretaker Cabinet, which maintains its status under Article 181 that stipulates the outgoing Council of Ministers shall remain in office to carry out its responsibilities until the newly appointed Council of Ministers takes office.

Anti-government leader Suthep Thaugsuban said on Tuesday night that he was now preparing to petition the Constitutional Court on whether Yingluck's term as prime minister had expired.

Yingluck's actions to retain her authority are unconstitutional, he said.


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