Albeit belatedly, the fact that the National Anti-Corruption Commission has decided to look into suspected irregularities in the Commerce Ministry's handling of the government's rice pledging scheme comes as welcome news.
NACC spokesman Klanarong Chantik says the complaint by Warong Dejkitvikrom, Democrat MP for Phitsanulok, has sufficient grounds to warrant an investigation into the populist scheme. A panel comprising Mr Klanarong and two other commission members, Vicha Mahakhun and Pol Gen Sathaporn Laothong, will take charge of the probe originally targeting Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, but will be expanded to cover more people if they are implicated.
The NACC's inquiry will be based on the evidence provided by Mr Warong which was already presented by the Democrat MP during the censure debate in parliament last week although the debate targeted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for alleged mishandling of the pledging scheme.
The main focus of Mr Warong's censure debate was on whether the supposed government-to-government (G-to-G) 7.3-million-tonne milled rice deal between the Commerce Ministry and a Chinese company known as GSSG Import and Export Corp might be a fake as no rice has actually been exported and not a single letter of credit has been issued by a credible bank to substantiate such a transaction. He suggested the deal could be a cover for a plot to sell rice in the stockpiles "under the table" to a local rice trader, known as Siam Indica, to be resold to rice millers who would afterwards pledge the rice with the Commerce Ministry under the pledging scheme.
Whether the Democrat MP's allegation of a shady deal is true or not remains to be seen until the completion of the NACC's investigation. But what is already obvious and undeniable is that the Commerce Ministry's handling of the rice pledging scheme, in particular the G-to-G rice deals, appears suspicious and lacks transparency. The commerce minister himself has always been uncooperative and evasive in providing information about the deals to clear the air, claiming that the information is classified and cannot be disclosed to the public. Classified information? That is complete nonsense!
Hence, the public has been kept completely in the dark about how much rice is currently held in the silos and warehouses across the country, how much rice has actually been sold under the G-to-G deals, at what prices and when it will be delivered.
There seem to be more mysteries pertaining to the G-to-G rice deals than contained in a spy thriller. The real truth about the memorandum of understanding recently inked between Thailand and China under which China, according to the Commerce Ministry, has promised to buy up to 15 million tonnes of Thai milled rice for three years at 5 million tonnes a year, remains elusive as the matter has already been swept under the carpet while no one in the government is willing to talk about it.
The taxpaying public has the lawful right to know what has been going on at the Commerce Ministry in its handling or mishandling of the rice pledging scheme and how their tax money is being used or misused. Hopefully, the NACC will be able to shed some light on the dubious rice business and, more importantly, put the brakes on the pledging scheme itself before any more devastating damage is done to the country's economy and to the rice farming industry.