Rice scheme case: a dangling sword

national May 02, 2014 00:00

By Opas Boonlom
The Nation

8,148 Viewed

NACC verdict could force Yingluck to step down, serve time

Caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is facing allegations of dereliction of duty and negligence over her role in the rice-pledging scheme, and the anti-graft probe could lead to impeachment and prosecution – meaning she could be toppled. 

If she is indicted by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, she will have to stop performing her duties as prime minister immediately. 
The NACC is expected to rule on the case on May 8 after having undertaken an investigation for more than a year. No one knows what the outcome will be or whether her fate will be the same as that of her brother, ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. 
Many people have said her destiny will depend on her defence against the allegations and the testimonies of her four key witnesses. 

The probe was separated into two areas based on Yingluck’s different duties: as the prime minister who governs the Cabinet and government policies, and as the chairwoman of the National Rice Policy Committee who is in charge of directing rice policy. 
The NACC accused her of committing the following offences:
- Dereliction of duty in violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code leading to damages;
- As a government official, doing or not doing something that caused damage, or being negligent in violation of the NACC Act of 1999; and
- Intentional exercising of power contrary to Article 178 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the prime minister shall carry out the administration of state affairs in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, laws and the policies stated before Parliament.
Yingluck allegedly let corruption occur in the rice-pledging scheme and release of rice from government stockpiles, while the dereliction-of-duty charge relates to whether or not she tried to put the brakes on the project, and whether damage was done to the country as a result. 
If she is indicted by the NACC, the following will happen:
She will have to suspend her duties as prime minister immediately while the Senate decides whether to impeach her and the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division decides whether to prosecute her. 
The NACC will submit all of its reports on the case to the Senate and the Office of the Attorney-General.
If Yingluck were found guilty criminally, she could face a prison term of one to 10 years and/or a fine of between Bt2,000 and Bt20,000.
If three-fifths of the Senate voted to impeach her, she would be barred from politics for five years. 

Defence testimony

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

- Rejects the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s authority to look into alleged graft in the rice-pledging scheme, saying taking the case to the NACC was illegal. 
l Insists that she is not a wrongdoer for the following reasons:
1. The rice-pledging scheme is one of the government’s most immediate and basic policies that both the government and its Cabinet are mutually responsible for. Therefore, if the prime minister orders the suspension of the project, it could violate the Constitution’s Section 178, which obliges the government to implement what it announces to Parliament. 
2. Implementing the rice-pledging scheme is part of the prime minister’s general duties under the State Administration Act. 
3. The prime minister’s duties are related to the policies and strategies proposed to the Cabinet and as chairwoman of the National Rice Policy Committee, the prime minister does not have the authority to suspend the scheme. 
4. Upon receiving a written warning from the NACC that there were problems with the project, especially corruption, the prime minister immediately ordered that an investigative committee be set up to prevent further graft.

Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach

l Allegations of Yingluck’s dereliction of duty in relation to the rice-pledging scheme were based on four illogical assumptions: 
1. Allegation that the government distorted the market mechanism via the rice-pledging scheme, hence forcing down the prices: There is no perfect market for rice.
2. Allegation that the project was created to secure votes and fill the pockets of corrupt officials: The project was able to increase both the volume and price of rice in a bid to reduce the income gap. 
3. Allegation that the PM was negligent in not ending the scheme when it only made losses: The PM cannot cancel or suspend any projects that were promised during the election campaign and later ratified in Parliament after the government was formed. 
4. Allegation that the project was making heavy losses based on data collected from the post-audit committee and Office of the Auditor-General of Thailand: Data not acceptable as the project had not ended. 
Caretaker Commerce Minister Nitwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan
l The scheme was originally started in 1993 under the Democrat-led government of Chuan Leekpai and Yingluck’s government has improved the scheme, making it more efficient and less prone to corruption. 
l As chair of the National Rice Policy Committee, Yingluck established 12 subcommittees to oversee and suppress any graft problems arising from the project. Caretaker Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung was given the job of looking into corruption related to the scheme since early 2012. 
l As for allegations of the project making huge losses, all government subsidies are meant to boost living conditions, so money needs to be injected to boost consumer spending in order to boost the economy. No public project can be expected to make a profit or loss, as it is not a business. 
l As long as the project has not come to an end, data from the post-audit committee cannot be taken into account.

Caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong

l Revolving funds budgeted for the rice-pledging scheme were not too large.
l There was fiscal discipline and it was constantly reported to the Cabinet. 
l Despite the presence of corruption at the operational level, each step of the scheme can be investigated. 
l The scheme cannot be terminated as it was promised to the public. 

Deputy secretary general to the PM for Political Affairs Pol Maj General Thawat Boonfueng

l In practice, the government has employed up to 30,000 personnel to inspect the state’s rice stockpiles and investigate any problems. 

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