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Price cut ‘not a solution’

Posted by Rattana_S On June - 24 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Academics sceptical of govt move; Pheu Thai to brief MPs on appeasing farmers

The ruling Pheu Thai Party is calling a meeting to brief party MPs on how to assuage upset farmers following the reduction in the pledging price of rice, even as academics yesterday argued that the price cut will not help resolve the financial losses and corruption problem.

A senior fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute, Nipon Poapongsakorn, spoke at a seminar on “Whether the reduction of pledging price for rice will help solve the loss and corruption problems?” held by the Thai Journalists Association in cooperation with the Isara Institute.

Nipon said that most of the current corrupt activities occurred during the release of rice from stockpiles, which had not been conducted in a transparent manner.

The reduction in the pledging price had not reduced any benefits earned by the rice mills. While the government had not revealed any sales information on the rice, only some of the losses could be cut by reducing the pledging price.

Nipon said the government had yet come up with measures to plug corruption loopholes in the rice-pledging scheme, especially those selling activities of high-level authorities. The activity of siphoning the money from farmers would remain, despite the reduction in prices.

Nipon said the government should abandon regulations allowing any rice mill to take seven days to convert paddy into rice in order to prevent them from having time to bring cheap rice from neighbouring countries to replace the pledging rice set for delivery.

Meanwhile, Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, said that in operating the rice-pledging scheme, authorities had not ignored measures set up to prevent corrupt activity. The committee was seriously in charge of the problem.

She said the reduction in the pledging price might result in some drop in corruption activity – but more efforts should be made to further cut it.

Wiboonlasana said she had not seen how the Finance Ministry’s subcommittee overseeing the rice-pledging scheme’s accounting, had calculated their balance sheet based on the highest cost assumptions.

Farmer representative Rangsan Kasulong said he would lead farmers to petition PM Yingluck Shinawatra on how the rice-pledging price reduction is unacceptable.

He said farmers had faced not only higher wage costs but increases in land leasing from Bt500-Bt700 to Bt1,000-1,500 per rai. He said price reduction would not help root out corruption, which has plagued the scheme from the start.

“Corruption is suspected at every step – right from the registering of farmers to the unusually high rice of planting areas, and irregularities in rice shipments from one miller to another. Irregularities are also suspected because the government cannot tell how much rice has been sold,” he said.

Appointed Senator Yuthana Thaipakdee said he believed three private companies had reaped as much as Bt15 billion profit in the alleged irregularities involving the sale of packed rice under the Commerce Ministry’s low-cost Blue Flag programme.

He said the Bt15 billion is added to the state’s losses from the rice-pledging scheme and the government must be held responsible for the losses.

Meanwhile, the Pheu Thai Party has moved to stem farmers’ growing discontent over the government’s move to revise down the rice pledging price, following a leaked report of the scheme’s huge losses.

Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit will tomorrow hold a meeting so that concerned ministers can guide MPs on how to explain to farmers why the rice pledging price has dropped from Bt15,000 to Bt12,000 per tonne.

The government is facing growing pressure from farmers who have threatened to rally against the decision to cut the price.

Prompong said the government would come up with handbooks explaining details about the scheme to prevent the Opposition from distorting facts surrounding the scheme to discredit the government.

An opinion survey has found that more than 80 per cent of respondents believe the rice-pledging scheme was hit heavily by corruption. The survey was carried out by Assumption University’s Abac Poll among 1,432 residents of 17 provinces from June 19-22.

Meanwhile, Phichit provincial Governor Chakrarin Plianwong ordered 33 rice millers involved in the rice-pledging scheme to stop shipments of rice from June 22-29. He said official inspections have revealed that more than 4,000 tonnes of rice pledged by farmers and another 4,000 tonnes of rice under the pledging scheme of the Marketing Organisation for Farmers (MOF) had disappeared from a warehouse in Photalay district. The governor instructed local police to be stationed at rice mills and ordered the MOF to file a police complaint over the missing rice.

The inspection was carried out after farmers in Phichit cried foul that they had not received money and certifications, which show how much rice they had pledged with the rice millers.

Rice price cut hits govt hard

Posted by Rattana_S On June - 23 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Polls point to sharp decline in support, with the Abhisit administration seen as better

The latest public opinion polls reveal growing discontent against the government, especially after it reduced the rice pledging price.

The results of three opinion surveys released yesterday showed that the public was not happy with the government’s decision to lower the rice pledging price from Bt15,000 to Bt12,000 per tonne and limit the money paid to each farmer at up to Bt500,000, with effect from June 30.

Meanwhile, a separate survey by Assumption University’s Abac Poll found that more respondents said the previous Democrat-led government had performed better than the current Pheu Thai-led one.

Regarding the cost of living, 58.9 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, compared to 41.1 per cent for the Yingluck Shinawatra government. For tackling the economic problems, the Abhisit government scored 60.4 per cent against 39.6 per cent by the current administration. The previous government was also way ahead in quality of life, with 61.8 per cent against 38.2 per cent. It also got higher scores over the current administration in the areas of solving traffic problems, access to people, national unity, and democracy.

The current administration fared better in the areas of fighting crime and drugs (58.4 per cent against 41.6) and quality of education (54.8 against 45.2).

The Abac Poll survey was conducted among 2,017 people in 17 provinces across all regions between June 11 and yesterday.

The National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) yesterday released results from a poll of 1,248 people nationwide from Wednesday to Friday about the government decision to slash the pledging price. More than half (59.62 per cent) disagreed because they sympathised with the farmers whose income would shrink while rice production costs (fertiliser, fuel and labour wage) were on the rise and this could cause them to be in debt, the poll said. They urged the government to tackle corruption in the rice-pledging scheme.

Most respondents (54.17 per cent) said the price cut would hit Pheu Thai Party’s popularity among farmers.

Suan Dusit Poll echoed similar views in its poll of 1,310 people nationwide from Wednesday to yesterday. About 59 per cent disagreed with such a price reduction, while 25.19 per cent said otherwise claiming the Bt15,000 price was too high and a burden on the government while 15.65 per cent were uncertain and urged the government to consider factors including farmers’ invested costs and the world economic condition. As for the limit imposed on each farmer, 42.75 per cent agreed as it would help the government better rein in spending whilst 35.11 per cent said the problem came from the government’s mismanagement hence it should not affect farmers.

The respondents also rated the possible solutions as follows: punishing corrupt people in the rice-pledging procedure 29.96 per cent, finding measures to aid affected farmers 23.82 per cent; the government visiting the farms and explaining reasons to the farmers in detail 20.94 per cent; controlling production cost and providing water supplies 17.68 per cent; and finding markets to sell the rice in the stockpile because rice grains could get damaged 7.60 per cent.

Bangkok Poll’s recent survey of 1,234 people found that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s popularity had gone down from 51.2 per cent last November to be 40.4 per cent, while her ruling party’s popularity was also lower by 7.8 per cent to 41 per cent after the government’s rice-pledging project suffered a big loss. While 55.4 per cent expected Yingluck to complete her term in office, some 45 per cent suggested that Yingluck shuffle her Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said her Cabinet had cut the rice pledging price in order to maintain financial and monetary discipline but insisted that the price could be adjusted if the world price of rice increases.

Farmers have threatened to storm Government House next week after the Yingluck Cabinet resolved to cut the rice pledging price from Bt15,000 per tonne to Bt12,000 per tonne.

Will patience pay in the long run?

Posted by Rattana_S On June - 21 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Though Yingluck appears to be asserting her independence, Thaksin too seems to be willing to do anything to return

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be pulling the strings behind the ruling Pheu Thai Party, once described his sister Yingluck as his “clone”. But over her past 22 months in power, Prime Minister Yingluck appears to be working hard to shed that image.

Yingluck, who turns 46 today, has resisted many of Thaksin’s ideas and even refused her big brother’s choice of aides and advisers. This has led to conjecture of a rift between the siblings.

A ruling party source said it was not unusual to see Yingluck asserting her independence. Her trusted aides are people of the same age who understand her, even though they are less experienced and have less ability than the advisers chosen by Thaksin.

However, Thaksin does not trust some of his sister’s aides because they abandoned him after the September 2006 coup. Yet, the source said, one of the advisers chosen by Thaksin admonished Yingluck publicly.

In addition, Yingluck’s confidantes have refused to take heed of the advice offered by advisers chosen by Thaksin, which has resulted in a growing crisis of confidence in the government. These issues include the Bt2-trillion loan for infrastructure projects, the baht’s rapid appreciation and the loss-making rice-pledging scheme, which have opened the government to attack from the opposition.

Suranand Vejjajiva, the PM’s secretary-general and one of Yingluck’s trusted confidants, said the PM is sincere and apolitical.

“Yingluck is not a politician. I think this is a good quality, considering the current situation. The minute she qualifies as a politician, her sincerity will fly right out the window,” he said.

Yingluck has more patience than her brother in running the government, even if it means having to step back sometimes, he said. “Thaksin is hot-headed and wants to see immediate results. Yingluck steps back while advancing too. She waits patiently and never gives up,” he said.

Neither Thaksin nor older sister Yaowapa Wongsawat have tried to influence Yingluck in running the government, Suranand said. Though, he added, it was normal for siblings to seek advice from each other. “Even I have sought advice from the former PM sometimes,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thaksin’s legal adviser and spokesman, Noppadon Pattama, said there was no need for Yingluck to abandon her image as Thaksin’s clone because it was natural for siblings to be similar.

After all, he said, Yingluck was riding on the coat-tails of Thaksin’s popularity.

Yet, after almost two years in office, Yingluck has shifted from being “a former prime minister’s sister who became a prime minister” to “a prime minister who happens to be a former prime minister’s sister”.

He said Yingluck is self-reliant and possesses strong leadership skills, though he denied that she is in conflict with Thaksin because of that.

Apirak Kosayodhin, deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party, agreed that Yingluck was trying to outgrow her image of Thaksin’s clone.

He added that attending international forums and portraying herself as an effective leader was possibly part of this attempt.

Yet, the prime minister appears to be keeping herself aloof from the government’s problems. Her usual excuse is that Cabinet members should be responsible for these matters. However, many issues have become serious because the ministers overseeing them are inefficient.

“The prime minister seems to have done almost nothing herself. There are teams responsible for various matters, including economic and political ones,” Apirak said.

Plus, some government policies appear to have had unfortunate side-effects. The rice-pledging scheme, for instance, is plagued by irregularities. The tax rebate for first-car owners has been causing severe traffic jams and the hike in minimum daily wage to Bt300 has been blamed for the escalating cost of living.

Yet, both Suranand and Noppadon agreed that Yingluck’s gentle style of running the government made her the “best choice” in the current political situation, and with her improved leadership skills, the government will stay alive and kicking.

Apirak disagreed. He said the government’s popularity was on the decline and that it was facing a barrage of problems, including corruption, rising cost of living, acts of intimidation by government supporters and disputes between certain red-shirt groups and the ruling party.

As the government heads for the second half of its term, Thaksin has instructed Pheu Thai politicians to go all out on controversial political issues involving the amnesty law and constitutional amendment.

Critics say the hidden agenda behind these moves is to bring Thaksin back home without the need to spend time in jail. Obviously, Thaksin believes high risk brings big rewards. Yet, his sister prefers to “play it safe”.

Apirak said that though Yingluck appeared to have become stronger after two years in power, her longevity as government head also depends on what Thaksin wants his loyal politicians to do to bring him back home.

Eventually, the prime minister will have to decide whether she will “play it safe” or “take the risk”. She will have to choose between her big brother’s dreams and her own political future.

Democrat Party candidate Taenkhun Jitisara won the Don Muang by-election, beating his Pheu Thai rival Yuranan Phamornmontree, according to unofficial results.

After the vote tally was done by 100 per cent, Taenkhun received 32,751 votes while Yuranan got 30,357 votes.

It was Democrat’s first victor in Don Muang over a decade. The constituency has been won by the Pheu Thai for several consecutive elections.

After learning the results, Yuranan congratulated Taenkhun. He said he would continue to work to serve the people although without a political position.

Yuranan said he had himself to blame because he had only about 16 days to campaign and meet Don Muang voters. He said Taenkhun had been working closely with Don Muang people for over two years.