Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday dismissed reports that the government needed the cargo terminal as Transport Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan revealed that the Commerce Ministry's Public Warehouse Organisation (PWO) will inspect the building on Monday to check its suitability for keeping rice.
In response to media reports that the government was considering using Cargo Terminal 2 as an additional warehouse for the scheme, Ms Yingluck insisted there was no need as the current warehouses were sufficient for the purpose.
She said several state agencies had contacted the government and proposed more places to store the pledged rice, but the fact was that the spaces already arranged by the Commerce Ministry were capable of accommodating it.
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom echoed Ms Yingluck's remark that the ministry's warehouses were able to store the entire amount of rice pledged under the scheme.
But Mr Jarupong said the airport was contacted by the PWO, the agency responsible for storing the pledged rice, to inspect the cargo terminal on Monday with a view to turning it into a new warehouse.
He said the terminal was capable of accommodating about 157,000 tonnes of unmilled rice.
However, Mr Jarupong said the final decision on the terminal would rest with the Commerce Ministry.
As for concerns over possible floods at the airport, as happened last year, Mr Jarupong said the floor of the cargo terminal was adjustable and could be raised to the same level as that of a cargo truck.
The airport is also now surrounded by a concrete floodwall about 13km in length, he said.
"This scheme is a key policy that the Pheu Thai Party promised to do when campaigning in the election, and I think those who came out to object to the scheme were all people who would lose if the programme proves successful," Mr Jarupong said.
The reason the government had to store the pledged rice for the time being was not because it had a problem with exporting the product but because it needed to wait until rice prices improved in the world market, he said.
Mr Jarupong said the purpose of the rice pledging scheme was to prevent farmers from suffering by having to sell their products at prices that are way too low.
As for the exact amount of rice being pledged, Ms Yingluck said the Commerce Ministry did have figures but it would be better to reveal a complete report on the pledged rice at the end of the project at the end of next year.
Opposition and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said what Ms Yingluck was doing was tantamount to stressing that the government was pressing ahead with a policy to make Thailand a country that grows rice to be stored in warehouses.
He was responding to her latest order for the Interior and Transport ministries and local administration organisations to find more warehouses for storing rice under the pledging scheme.
Mr Abhisit said this order was not a good one and did not bode well for the future, and it was strange that the prime minister and agencies concerned refused to revise the policy and kept on defending it.
The more the government attempted to explain the scheme, the more confusing it became, he said, adding that the problem lay with the policy itself, not with any particular ministry that was assigned to handle the pledging.