Govt defends 'pillow' plan

Govt defends 'pillow' plan

Netizens, FFP launch barrage of criticism

Rubber pillows are available at a superstore in Bangkok. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Rubber pillows are available at a superstore in Bangkok. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Thamanat Prompow's proposal to give away 30 million latex pillows to support rubber farmers has prompted questions about its sustainability and transparency, forcing one of his close aides to mount a defence of the plan on Monday.

This came after Future Forward Party (FFP) list-MP Wirote Lakkhana-adisorn joined netizens in criticising the idea of mobilising 18 billion baht to manufacture the pillows.

The idea was floated by Capt Thamanat last week to help rubber farmers who have long endured low prices.

Pol Col Ruamnakhon Thaptimthong, who heads Capt Thamanat's working team, said on Monday the scheme was in line with the Palang Pracharath Party election campaign pledge to shore up crop prices.

It would put 150,000 tonnes of latex to use and the latex would be purchased directly from registered farmers at 65 baht per kg, compared with the current average market price of 40 baht per kg, he claimed.

According to Pol Col Ruamnakhon, each pillow is expected to cost 600 baht to produce.

He said mechanisms would be put in place to ensure transparency, noting that staff from the Rubber Authority of Thailand and police would be deployed to monitor the whole process.

The latex pillows would be manufactured by the Marketing Organisation for Farmers (MOF) using a budget of 18 billion baht. The MOF would obtain a loan from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), which was expected to launch a charity lottery to raise funds.

Pol Col Ruamnakhon said the market price of latex pillows of the same quality is between 2,000-2,500 baht apiece, when asked about criticism that the production cost of 600 baht apiece is too high.

He said the scheme is expected to be submitted to the cabinet for consideration next month and noted that a complaint will be lodged against the FFP MP today over his comments about the proposal.

Thanakorn Wangboonkhongchana, secretary to the finance minister, said on Monday the scheme had not yet been proposed to the Finance Ministry for consideration but once it was, there would be a lot of details to go over.

He said the proposed scheme involved sales from a charity lottery to raise funds, so it would have to be forwarded to the cabinet for review too.

Mr Thanakorn also dismissed as baseless Mr Wirote's criticism that the scheme "smelled fishy", saying the project had not even been considered yet.

Meanwhile, the plan drew mixed reactions from the rubber sector.

Pairatch Joeychum, leader of a rubber farmer group in Phatthalung, on Mondayquestioned the idea, saying there were other ways the government could shore up rubber prices in a sustainable manner such as by promoting the rubber tyre production industry.

"Giving away 30 million latex pillows worth 18 billion isn't the right answer. The government can do better with that amount of money," he said.

However, Luckchai Kittipol, chief executive of Thai Hua Rubber Plc, voiced support for the scheme, saying it would boost domestic demand and give prices a boost.

He said authorities concerned should step up work to ensure the transparency of the process and suggested that the government could expand the scheme by either selling at low prices or giving latex pillows to foreign tourists.

Pongsak Kerdvongbundit, president and chief executive officer of Von Bundit Co, said that, in his estimation, at least 45,000 tonnes of latex would be needed for the production of 30 million pillows.

While cautiously welcoming the scheme, Mr Pongsak said the measure would not be enough to raise rubber prices over the long run and the government should do more to increase domestic demand.

According to Mr Pongsak, the domestic demand for latex accounts for only 15% of total production.

Chuwit Pitakpornpanlop, a Pheu Thai MP for Ubon Ratchathani and chair of a House sub-committee on rubber and palm, said the scheme was a good idea but there were other steps involved before the scheme could be implemented.

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