Problems stall rice inspection

Disorderly stockpiles, deteriorating quality, inconsistent IDs on sacks and mixed grades of rice are among the problems that have emerged on the third day of the nationwide inspection of state rice stocks.

Authorities are trying to get a precise fix on how much rice is being held and its condition so that they can draw up plans for selling the grain piled up under an overly generous pledging programme run by the former government.

In Pasang district in Lamphun province, TV Channel 3 on Saturday reported problems with 38,609 sacks (100 kilogrammes each) of rice.

The sacks were not arranged by type and some grain was rotten and contaminated with fungus. Sacks of 5% white rice had been inserted in the middle of a pile of 100% white rice, and 30 sacks were found to have been mixed with sticky rice.

The discoveries forced officials to put the inspection on hold since they will now have to check inside every sack. 

In Phrom Phiram district of Phitsanulok, collapsed piles of sacks since April hindered the operation. Many sacks were threadbare and torn while some grain was rotten. The inspection there was also put off.

In Sukhothai, 254,201 tonnes of rice are being kept in 14 warehouses and documentation is proving difficult.

In Kong Krailat district, the number codes on the sacks at a warehouse with 11,520 sacks were not consistent with the records kept by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The sacks were also arranged too close to the walls and ceiling, making it difficult to count. Soldiers who led the audit had to order the warehouse to be rearranged before the inspection could continue.

In Phayao province, 97,259 tonnes of grain are kept at 22 warehouses and the inspection teams hope to finish the job by July 20.

The biggest problem so far was the sacks were not stored in an orderly fashion, making it difficult to count. No rotten rice has been found so far.

In any case, samples were taken from the audited rice to be inspected by central laboratories.

In Nakhon Ratchasima, almost 500,000 tonnes of rice are kept in 47 warehouses.

Five warehouses had been inspected as of Saturday, totalling 544,608 sacks or 54,460.8 tonnes. Initially, they found 228 sacks missing but inspectors say they could be in other warehouses.

The teams also noted some warehouses were not as clean, bright and airy as they are required to be.

ML Panadda Diskul, who heads the audit exercise for the NCPO, earlier expressed his frustrations with the many shortcomings investigators had discovered.

Rampant corruption was clearly evident in the storage of rice after just two days of a nationwide audit, said ML Panadda, who is also the permanent secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office.

He said inspections indicated that past checks of government rice stocks had been done carelessly and some reports were downright false.

The latest round of inspections that started on Thursday found large amounts of rice were missing. The teams also found good rice replaced with bad grain, rotten rice at some locations, skipped fumigation routines and uncategorised piles of rice stacked up to obstruct examination, ML Panadda wrote on his Facebook page.

"Why are the systems of the nation like this? There is no good governance in management and trouble was caused to farmers," he wrote.

The full inspection of government rice stocks will take at least a month, he said.

Stocks have soared to 18 million tonnes from their normal level of about 5 million as the rice-pledging scheme of the previous government encouraged farmers to sell to the state at unrealistically high prices, which later crippled Thailand's ability to sell its grain profitably in global markets.

Pheu Thai paid farmers 40-50% above market rates at a time when the global rice market was becoming oversupplied.

Estimates vary about how much taxpayers' money the pledging scheme will end up losing, but experts put the sums at between 500 billion and 700 billion baht.

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