Ministry seeks more farmer cash

The Commerce Ministry plans to request Election Commission (EC) approval to borrow another 20-40 billion baht from the central budget to cover overdue payments to farmers under the rice pledging scheme.

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Caretaker Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach yesterday said 70 billion baht remained unpaid to farmers, and the amount might exceed that figure if the EC put off the general election.

The EC previously said it was unsure whether the poll could go ahead on July 20 as tentatively agreed with former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, given the short deadline and political instability.

It is also unclear whether acting caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan has the authority to issue a decree for a new election date.

The EC approved the caretaker government using 20 billion baht from the central budget on the condition it was repaid this month.

The rice scheme, introduced in October 2011, is months behind in its payments to farmers.

Proceeds from selling rice in state warehouses are inadequate to pay farmers all at once, and the government's caretaker status limits it from new borrowing to finance the scheme.

Nonetheless, Mr Yanyong defended Commerce Ministry attempts to speed up disposal of existing rice stocks through various channels such as general auctions, the Agricultural Futures Exchange of Thailand (AFET) and government-to-government contracts.

In another attempt to sell rice stocks, the Commerce Ministry yesterday put 450,000 tonnes up for auction to supply both exports and domestic sales.

The grains include grade-B Hom Mali, 5% white rice, 10% white glutinous rice and broken Hom Mali rice from the main crops of 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Also yesterday, the ministry sold 17,000 tonnes of degraded rice harvested from various seasons since 2006, while the Public Warehouse Organisation called a bid to sell 220,000 tonnes through AFET.

Mr Yanyong said the Commerce Ministry is confident of returning 20 billion baht to the central budget this month as scheduled.

The Yingluck government spent more than 800 billion baht to fund the pledging scheme, and officials are still keeping their lips shut about the scheme's official losses.

A subcommittee overseeing the accounting of the pledging scheme, led by deputy finance permanent secretary Supa Piyajitti, previously said losses from the scheme for the three crops through the 2012-13 main season amounted to 220 billion baht and could reach 400 billion if the two crops through 2013-14 were included.

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