Prayut slams rice-buying publicity stunts

Prayut slams rice-buying publicity stunts

Grower found hanged as price pressure rises

A farmer from Ubon Ratchathani (left) hugs Yingluck Shinawatra to show her support while the former prime minister arrives at the Supreme Court to defend the rice-pledging scheme. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
A farmer from Ubon Ratchathani (left) hugs Yingluck Shinawatra to show her support while the former prime minister arrives at the Supreme Court to defend the rice-pledging scheme. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has warned politicians against exploiting the slump in rice prices for political gain, by buying grain from farmers and publicising it.

The warning came after former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday visited the northeastern provinces of Ubon Ratchathani and Surin, where she bought rice from farmers despairing over falling prices.

Ms Yingluck on Friday invited people via her Facebook postings to buy the grain she had bought in front of Fashion Island Shopping Mall on Ram Intra Road at 4pm today.

The rice will be sold at 20 baht a kilo, the same price at which she bought it from the growers.

Meanwhile, the price slump has taken its toll on farmers, with one grower from Phichit, 43-year-old Supakit Panplaek, found dead hanging from a tree. His relatives believe he committed suicide because of stress over falling paddy prices.

One of his relatives, Nithat Panplaek, said the slump in rice prices and a huge debt of almost one million baht were the possible reasons for Mr Supakit taking his own life.

Gen Prayut said politicians can buy rice from farmers, but "they must really intend to do so, not only to try to boost their image".

The government has rolled out a rice-subsidy scheme of 13,000 baht per tonne for Hom Mali paddy to help farmers suffering from the price slump.

Of the 13,000 baht, 9,500 baht will be paid to farmers to store their paddy, while the rest covers other costs, including maintenance and storage.

It is intended that farmers redeem their rice within five months of joining the scheme

The prime minister said the government's subsidy programme will not be detrimental to the market rice mechanism, adding the media should not distort the facts.

He said the government is looking for ways to fix the rice trade.

Some 30 executive committee members of the Thai Rice Millers Association, including the organisation's president, Manas Kitprasert, stepped down on Thursday following criticism that millers were behind the recent drop in rice prices.

This came after Gen Prayut earlier blamed rice mill operators and some local politicians for manipulating rice prices and causing the price plunge.

Gen Prayut said he did not want the executives to step down because it would take time to appoint new ones.

The government sometimes obtains information and needs the association to explain the facts, the premier added.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Ms Yingluck's buying rice from farmers in the Northeast would be accepted by society if she was willing to help farmers without a hidden agenda and was not attempting to seek a political boost.

If the former prime minister wanted to seek headlines or tried to cover up her alleged wrongdoings and charges in relation to her rice-pledging scheme, members of the public may feel unease that politicians were using farmers' woes to seek political benefits, he said.

Responding to scepticism over her recent northeastern visits to buy rice from farmers, Ms Yingluck said yesterday she did so as a Thai citizen who feels sympathy for growers, insisting her visits were not politically motivated.

Referring to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon's call for her to buy all grain from farmers to help them, the former premier said: "If I was in office, I would do so. But I am now only an ordinary person so I will do as much as I can."

Ms Yingluck was speaking as she arrived at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office-Holders, where she was due to attend a hearing on the dereliction of duty charges against her in connection with her government's rice scheme, which was said to have incurred more than 500 billion baht in losses.

Meanwhile, a group of farmers who travelled in three coaches from Ubon Ratchathani yesterday went to the court to give moral support to Ms Yingluck.

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