Section 44 to lever international schools in EEC
The government agreed Tuesday to invoke the powerful Section 44 of the interim charter to speed up the development of the much-touted Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).
Government and junta spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said using Section 44 for the EEC was approved by the National Council for Peace and Order and acknowledged by the cabinet.
Lt Gen Sansern said use of Section 44 will help expedite project development, improving foreign investor confidence in the EEC.
However, the bureaucratic bypass will be applied on a case-by-case basis, with the first focus promoting leading international schools to set up shop in the EEC, he said.
International educational institutes are considered instrumental to kick-starting the government's desired educational reform and strengthening Thailand's competitiveness and the research and development sector, said Lt Gen Sansern.
The government could use Section 44 to allow international schools to open branches in the EEC and not be governed by the Private Higher Education Institute Act and related rules and regulations of the Education Ministry, he said.
Foreign educational institutes will also be entitled to promotional privileges from the Board of Investment.
However, Section 44 requires an education development committee chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha be established to supervise international educational institutes' quality.
Lt Gen Sansern said the cabinet also approved in principle Tuesday the second draft bill on EEC development, which will later be submitted for reading to the Council of State. The first draft was approved by the cabinet last October.
In a related development, the cabinet approved the country's five-year rice production and marketing plan worth 25.8 billion baht, starting from 2017.
The plan calls for state support of farmers growing high-quality rice varieties, expansion of mega-farms and organic rice cultivation promotion.
Nathporn Chatusripitak, an adviser to Prime Minister's Office Minister Suvit Maesincee, said the cabinet also approved 1.87 billion baht from the central budget in fiscal 2017 to finance the plan.
"Under the plan, the government is committed to supporting and promoting farmers in 21 provinces covering 300,000 rai of farmland to use high-quality varieties, particularly for hom mali rice," he said.
"This project is scheduled to start operation during March and October this year, while the Agriculture Ministry will be tasked with screening farmers in remote areas to join the project."
Small-scale farmers with five rai of farmland who join the scheme will be entitled to technology training on how to keep rice seeds for use in future harvests.
Mr Nathporn said the rice mega-farm scheme, for which the ministry is providing soft loans, machinery and agricultural equipment to farmers to cut production costs and raise productivity, is meant to last the full five years.
The scheme was implemented last year and participating farmers pool their farmland into one large plot, using modern equipment for harvesting.
Participating farmers can borrow up to 5 million baht at 0.01% interest from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), while the Commerce Ministry is responsible for the marketing and sales of the rice and finding buyers.
Acting as a group, participating farmers can negotiate for better access to markets and financial resources such as loans.
This grouping and joint management strategy is intended to ensure efficiency in the entire rice value chain -- from planning and farming to marketing and distribution.
Last August, the cabinet approved 3.25 billion baht worth of lending packages via the BAAC for mega-farm projects for 2017-19.
Last year some 381 rice mega-farms signed up for the scheme, spanning 940,000 rai. A total of 63,000 farmers participated.
The government wants to expand the scheme to 18,800 mega-farms with 1.5 million farmers on a combined 19.4 million rai of farmland in 70 provinces.
In the meantime, Mr Nathporn said the government will spend 9.7 billion baht to promote organic rice farming between 2017-21, aiming to help 66,700 farmers on 1 million rai of farmland to grow more organic rice by 2021.