Chatchai promises swift rubber probe
Soldiers seize network bosses over weekend
An investigation into alleged irregularities in the Rubber Authority of Thailand will be concluded within seven days, Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Chatchai Sarikulya has promised.
Gen Chatchai made the vow to rubber farmers belonging to the Rubber Farmer Network of Thailand, who came Monday to lodge a petition with him in Bangkok.
They demanded a speedy investigation into the joint venture the Rubber Authority of Thailand (RAOT) has formed with five private companies. They also asked the ministry to sack the RAOT governor.
This past month, declining rubber prices prompted farmers in southern provinces to threaten to stage a mass street protest in Bangkok, scheduled to start Monday. Their plan was aborted after four main leaders of the movement had been summoned to army camps in Trang and Phatthalung for "attitude adjustment" sessions over the weekend.
To pacify the frustrated farmers, the agricultural minister reportedly ordered officials to form a special committee to look into the RAOT's joint venture.
The RAOT's venture with five companies aims to help manage rubber prices and create new markets for the product. Rubber farmers have accused the venture of failing its objective as rubber prices have plummeted.
Farmers have also alleged the joint venture spent state money to buy rubber from local farmers to resell them in the market, leading to oversupply and plunging prices.
Gen Chatchai said the investigation would be completed in a week. However, he dismissed the request to suspend the RAOT governor, saying he was not authorised to do so. Appraisal and suspension of the RAOT governor is done by a committee formed under the state enterprise law.
RAOT governor Titus Suksaard denied any wrongdoing. "There has never been any corruption in the joint venture," he told the media after meeting with Gen Chatchai.
While rubber prices have been on the rise over the past two weeks, this has failed to satisfy rubber farmers, he said. The governor also blamed the excess supply of rubber on global markets.
He said the RAOT has a policy of not intervening in global market prices and focusing on promoting innovation and marketing to add value to rubber products. The RAOT has reportedly advised farmers to plant other crops too in order to avoid oversupply in the global market.
Thanomkiat Yingchuan, advisor to the Rubber Farmer Network of Thailand, said rubber farmers would not now be able to have their voices heard in Bangkok as their plan to protest in the capital had been interrupted by the military.
He was one of the four leaders who were summoned for "attitude adjustment".
The four leaders were reportedly not detained at military camps and were released shortly after. Officers only wanted to invite them for "attitude adjustment" so they could understand the proper way to lodge complaints, according to Gen Wirachai Inthusophon, assistant to the army chief and deputy secretary-general of the National Council for Peace and Order, said.
Thanomkiat said he and three core members of the network in Trang and Phatthalung, are now "restricted" from travelling by security officers, making them unable to go to Bangkok.
"Soldiers seized my phone, so I could not contact other farmers," said Phairat Choei, another leader who was summoned by the military on Sunday.