Information provided by former deputy premier and finance minister Pridiyadhorn Devakula outlining huge losses by the rice pledging scheme was incorrect and misleading, according to Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.
Mr Kittiratt, also deputy prime minister for economic affairs, was responding to MR Pridiyadhorn’s open-letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday calling for a rapid end to the controversial rice pledging scheme.
He said the 425 billion baht loss cited by MR Pridiyadhorn was not correct and as a former finance minister he should have more carefully reviewed the figure before making it public. However, the minister declined to release the "correct" figure.
MR Pridiyadhorn said the rice scheme had failed to distribute income to farmers as planned. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
MR Pridiyadhorn said in his letter that the rice scheme had failed to distribute income to farmers as planned, and it had damaged the country’s fiscal status.
He cited figures showing that in the two years since implementing the programme, with a total of 48 million tonnes of paddy involved, the government had lost at least 425 billion baht, but rice farmers gained benefits amounting to only 210 billion baht.
More importantly, those who were not farmers gained more than 115 billion baht in benefits, showing that the government had failed to prevent corruption in the rice scheme, the former finance minister said.
In his letter, MR Pridiyadhorn suggested the prime minister quickly bring an end to the questionable rice scheme and instead pay direct benefits to rice farmers.
The government could set a ceiling for the benefit to be paid to each farm household, and make sure that the money actually reaches the hands of as many poor farmers as possible, he said.
This way the government could help more farmers, and large amounts of state money would not be wasted, he added.
Mr Kittiratt said the rice scheme’s loss figure of 425 billion baht cited by MR Pridiyadhorn was not correct and might have been derived from his misunderstanding of the situation.
“MR Pridiyadhorn used to serve as deputy premier and finance minister, so he should have reviewed the figure to make it clear before exposing such information to the general public,” said Mr Kittiratt.
He said the government was ready to listen to all suggestions from academics and will apply them to improve the rice scheme's operations for the benefit of farmers.
The finance minister refused to clarify the loss figures for the populist rice scheme, which the government has spent 670 billion baht of taxpayers' money implementing over the past two years.
The government appointed committee for overseeing the rice scheme’s accounting reported a first year loss of 130 billion baht. The panel has not yet disclosed the second year’s loss figure.
Niwatthamrong Bunsongpaisan said the government is closing corruption 'loopholes' in the rice scheme. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongpaisan said on Wednesday that he had not seen the details of MR Pridiyadhorn’s open-letter, but he had no idea how the figure of a loss of 425 billion was derived. He also did not give the "correct" figures.
Rice in stockpile had not yet all been sold and therefore the government could not conclude how much the loss might be, he said.
Mr Niwatthamrong said he believed the loss figures disclosed by several parties were their personal assessments and therefore differed, adding that all the figures were incorrect.
The minister said the government had spent 330 billion baht in 2012 and 340 billion baht in 2013 on the rice scheme. A total budget of 270 billion baht was allocated for the programme in 2014.
The money was directly paid to rice farmers joining the scheme through the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives. There was no way the money could be leaked out. The government had been trying to close all loopholes which could facilitate corruption, he said.
Mr Niwatthamrong said he will next month travel to China to discuss the rice purchasing agreement with his Chinese counterpart. China wants to buy one million tonne of Thai rice annually for several years under a government-to-government long-term agreement, he said.
Democrat MP for Phitsanulok Warong Dejkijwikrom on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to show responsibility for the alleged 425 billion baht damage caused by the government’s rice scheme.
If only 210 billion baht went into the hands of rice farmers, the question is where the remaining 200 billion baht had gone, he said.
Ms Yingluck should take political responsibility for the damage, but how she would do this rests with her, Mr Warong said.
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