Court rejects rice scheme appeal

An academic who sought a court order to halt the government's controversial rice-pledging scheme has given up his legal battle after his petition was rejected yesterday.

  • Published: 11/10/2012 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Cereal assembly

A rice mill worker in Ratchaburi unloads rice in a government warehouse during a visit by Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to inspect the rice pledging scheme. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD

Adis Israngkura na Ayutthaya, dean of the School of Development Economics at the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), said he will not take his case to the Ombudsman, which was one option suggested by legal experts to keep the case alive.

Instead, he will establish forums for people to exchange opinions about the pledging programme's pros and cons - starting tomorrow with farmers from several provinces.

Mr Adis, along with 146 other academics and students from Thammasat and Nida, filed a petition last week asking the Constitution Court to issue an injunction to halt the government's 405-billion-baht rice-pledging policy.

The Constitution Court yesterday rejected the petition saying it was outside its jurisdiction.

The petitioners were also not among those whose rights and liberties had been allegedly violated by the scheme, the court ruled.

Court spokesman Pimol Thampithakpong said the ruling was unanimous, with a vote of 9-0.

The petition said a pledging principle required that pledged prices be lower than market ones, to allow farmers to redeem their rice when prices go up.

Under the rice-pledging scheme, the government intentionally fixed much higher pledged prices than the market value without intending for farmers to ever redeem the rice, it said.

In doing so, the government essentially became the largest rice trader in the country - it was a monopoly and therefore destroyed free trade, affecting rice production and distorting market mechanisms, the petition argued.

The opposition Democrat Party zeroed in on unclear information from the government about its release of the 12-million-tonne stockpile.

Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the court may have thrown out the rice-pledging petition but it does not mean the programme is problem-free.

"Both Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom have been talking a lot about exporting the pledged rice but has there been any confirmation?" he asked. While Mr Boonsong said the government has entered contracts to sell 7.33 million tonnes of pledged rice, Ms Yingluck said the deals are only at a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) level, Mr Abhisit said.

The Democrat leader also questioned whether the government will be able to sell the stockpiled rice in time to keep the project going financially.

"This project will force us to grow rice only to keep it in storage. If the government was able to release that many tonnes of its stockpiles, why is it so desperate to find rice storage facilities to the point of converting Don Mueang airport or military bases into warehouses?" Mr Abhisit said.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut also questioned the government-to-government (G-to-G) rice export figures which have been supplied. Customs Department data showed that Thailand has exported only 3.29 million tonnes of rice so far this year, all by private companies, he said.

Faced with growing questions about G-to-G rice sales, Ms Yingluck yesterday said she would order the Commerce Ministry to hold a press conference to give details on the deals.

She said certain information could be confidential but the government would make public as much as possible.

She said the Commerce Ministry will provide specific details, including which countries are at the MoU level, which are at the letter of credit opening stage and which are expecting deliveries.

Mr Boonsong, meanwhile, insisted the ministry has sold 7.33 million tonnes of rice to six countries - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh and Ghana - and that all shipments will be completed by the end of next year.

However, he refused to give details concerning the deals.

"The details of each deal must be kept secret both in terms of volume and selling price, in line with the country's international trade strategy," the minister said.

"Those who want to know the details can ask the buyers," he added.

The minister was also confident that the "ex-warehouse" method, in which goods are made available at a particular warehouse for a buyer to transport to where it wants, would be an effective selling system as the state does not have to shoulder transportation costs.

He refused to say whether the sales of the 7.33 million tonnes of rice were made through this method. Traders, however, are sceptical as to whether the ministry is applying this method and not secretly awarding rice deals to local exporters who then act as brokers.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who was assigned to root out corruption in the rice pledging scheme, insisted that the only alleged graft associated with the programme found so far involved low-level officials.

He said he will invite agencies including the Public Warehouse Organisation, the Marketing Organisation for Farmers and the Bank of Agriculture and Cooperatives to share information about possible corruption in the government's scheme next Monday.

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