Face the truth on rice scheme

Face the truth on rice scheme

The government plans to counter Moody's Investors Service's warning about the perils of the rice-pledging scheme. The rating agency said the scheme's higher-than-anticipated losses could hurt the economy and cause a downgrade of the country's credit rating.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday instructed Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to reveal details of the operating costs of the scheme, which is reported to have lost an estimated 260 billion baht for the 2011-12 harvests.

Moody's assessment of the economy vis-a-vis the Pheu Thai Party's flagship populist policy and its credit rating warning have harmed Thailand's image. And if the warning is actually carried out, domestic and foreign investment here would be hard hit.

To prevent this and to restore the country's image, the government must rebut Moody's negative report with facts instead of rhetoric.

The Finance Ministry's Fiscal Policy Office director, Somchai Sujjapongse, hit the nail on the head when he said yesterday that Moody's Investors Service should not have used press reports as the basis to assess Thailand's credit rating.

He said it should have sent a representative to collect information from relevant agencies or approached the agencies directly.

Moody's failed to act professionally and did not meet its standards as an internationally recognised organisation, he said, insisting the rice-pledging scheme losses would not exceed 100 billion baht.

Moody's problem in assessing Thailand's credit rating appears to be the same predicament facing the Thai press in its coverage of the pledging scheme's status.

It was also reported to be the same issue confronted by then-finance deputy permanent secretary Supa Piyajitti when she decided to make a projection about the scheme's losses without any updated input or cooperation from the Commerce Ministry.

Ms Supa's figures were reported by the press and used by Moody's as a reference, but the projection might not be accurate.

But who should take the blame for this mess now that those figures are out there?

All of them met a wall of silence from the ministry. Not a word about the scheme has leaked from Mr Boonsong down to the officials concerned.

All information about the scheme has been guarded like military secrets. Perhaps the truth is too embarrassing for the government.

Criticism of Moody's professionalism appears to be misplaced. Mr Boonsong deserves criticism for failing to be transparent, honest and professional as far as the rice scheme is concerned.

And as head of the government, Ms Yingluck should also be held accountable for the information cover-up.

The government might be able to get away from the opposition and the press by keeping tight-lipped about the scheme, but it cannot afford to ignore Moody's warning. The risk to the national interest is too high.

It is about time the government started acting responsibly and honestly about the scheme. It's time to face the truth about the scheme with courage.

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