"You cannot cover up a dead elephant with lotus leaves." So goes this popular Thai saying, which means that a scandal or something evil which is widely known can never be concealed or covered up because the truth about it will, sooner or later, be exposed.
Rice farmers in Lam Luk Ka district, Pathum Thani, rush to harvest their rice crops as floodwaters Nakhon Nayok’s Ongkharak flow in. PONGPAT WONGYALA
I am referring to this old adage to ponder the conduct of the Commerce Ministry in its handling of the rice pledging scheme, particularly regarding the information about the government-to-government export rice deals and the huge rice stockpiles scattered in various privately and government-owned warehouses across the country.
There is a huge discrepancy about the amount of the milled rice stockpiles as claimed by the Commerce Ministry and its critics. The ministry insists that there are only 4.18 million tonnes left unsold, excluding last year's leftover of about 2 million tonnes, and negotiations are under way with potential buyers as yet unnamed.
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom claimed that 7.3 million tonnes of milled rice had been committed to be sold to four buyers, namely China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Ivory Coast, under government-to-government (G-to-G) agreements on a long-term basis.
Critics, however, say that the actual amount of milled rice stockpiles are 11.51 million tonnes plus 2 million tonnes carried over from last year and the 7.3 million tonnes of rice claimed to be sold by the Commerce Ministry were just hot air. Or to be blunt, just a "white lie", because the Commerce Ministry from Mr Boonsong on down to senior commerce officials have been unable to produce any documents to prove the rice sales or to provide some basic information about the exact amount of rice sold to each of the four customers, the selling prices and the dates of delivery. When pressed by reporters, Mr Boonsong simply brushes off the question, saying it is trade secret that cannot be revealed.
The only real export figure for the first eight months of this year was 4.47 million tonnes of milled rice sold by the private sector. Not a single grain of rice has been sold under G-to-G deals this year.
The huge unsold rice stockpiles are similar to a very sick elephant which will die if the stockpiles are not quickly released from the warehouses to make room for the upcoming new harvest of 26 million tonnes of paddy, 15 million from the main crop and 11 million from the second crop, that the government has promised to buy from farmers for the 2012-13 season at an estimated cost of 405 billion baht.
To save the sick elephant, the Commerce Ministry must race against time which is steadily ticking away. Latest reports say the Thai trade representative, Olarn Chaiprawat, has been instructed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to try to secure rice deals from potential buyers.
One amazing thing about the scheme is that the amount of the second-crop rice for the 2011-12 season pledged by the government ballooned to 10.6 million tonnes compared to 6.9 million tonnes for the main crop. How could it be possible that the second crop surpassed the main crop by almost 4 million tonnes since second crop cultivation is possible only in irrigation-fed farm land?
The apparent problem with the Commerce Ministry is that it believes it can hide from the public the truth about rice stockpiles and about the rice exported in collaboration with sympathetic media outlets which have deliberately refrained from doing their job to seek out the truth about the scheme while blindly trumpeting the merits of the scheme.
The rice in question amounts to several million tonnes which can be likened to an elephant, so how can it be covered up by lotus leaves? That leads to the question about the latest rice export figure pertaining to the G-to-G sale, which is yet to be officially released three months after almost 1 million tonnes of rice was claimed to have been exported under G-to-G deals. If the Commerce Ministry is to regain public trust and credibility, it must come clean by telling the truth. Because, after all, we all know that the ministry from Mr Boonsong on down is just a figure-head which has to take orders from the man afar who dictates policy.
But back to the rice pledging scheme. It should now be clear to all that most of the critics of the scheme, including the academic group from Nida and Thammasat University, are not against farmers benefiting from the scheme. I, myself, am wholeheartedly behind farmers having the chance to live a better life and to have all the basic amenities that we urbanites have.
What the critics really want is a scheme which will truly help the farmers on a sustainable basis so they will be able to stand on their own feet and live a better life. For that matter, the pledging scheme is just a short-term measure which will not help the farmers in the long run.
If the government is truly sincere with farmers and really wants to help them and not just bargain for their votes, why can't it accept constructive criticism or good suggestions from its critics?
And if possible, why can't they all sit together for a brainstorming session to work out some common ground which will best serve the farmers' interests on a sustainable basis rather than engaging in bickering which will go on and on endlessly?
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post
About the author
- Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor