Ministry: Rice losses 'under B500bn'

Estimated losses from the previous five crops under the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s rice-pledging scheme could be lower than 500 billion baht, says the Finance Ministry.

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Finance permanent secretary Rungson Sriworasat said the subcommittee overseeing accounting for the scheme was hurrying to conclude the figure, but losses might not hit 500 billion baht.

A Finance Ministry source recently said the estimated loss for the five crops, starting from the 2011-12 main crop, could widen to 500 billion baht based on current market prices.

MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, a former finance minister and Bank of Thailand governor, earlier forecast the loss from the scheme could be 466 billion baht, while the subcommittee previously estimated aggregate losses from the first three crops under the scheme would be 332 billion baht.

The rice-pledging scheme was at the heart of the Pheu Thai Party’s populist platform that swept Ms Yingluck to power in the 2011 general election.

The Yingluck government unveiled the scheme in October 2011 amid criticism that the pledging price, set 40-50% higher than market prices, could lead to hefty losses shouldered by taxpayers.

The state-run Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) reported it paid 4.31 billion baht to 39,487 rice farmers yesterday and on Monday.

About 800,000 farmers who have been waiting for government payments for months are expected to receive payouts by next month after the junta urgently approved the Finance Ministry to borrow and guarantee bonds to be issued by the state-backed farm bank worth a combined 92 billion baht.

Under the plan, the BAAC will advance payment of 40 billion baht to farmers, and it will soon issue bonds worth 50 billion baht to settle the overdue payment.

A Finance Ministry source said the ministry would seek approval from the National Council for Peace and Order to reappoint the subcommittee led by inspector-general Kulit Sombatsiri, who replaced former deputy finance permanent secretary Supa Piyajitt, to ensure that the subcommittee is valid following the coup.

The Finance Ministry has approached the Office of the Ombudsman to join the subcommittee as an observer and set up a working panel to help the accounting of the rice-pledging scheme comply with standards.

Chanudpakorn Vongseenin, president of the Public Warehouse Organization, insisted no rice was missing from warehouses and said the PWO would set up a working panel to recheck the volume of rice hoarded in warehouses.

Ms Supa earlier said 2.97 million tonnes of rice were missing from warehouses, but the PWO claims the supposedly missing rice has yet to be documented since it was being milled at that time.

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