Fair-minded people familiar with the Commerce Ministry’s track record of cover-ups and its reluctance to part with any information about the rice pledging scheme, especially the selling price of the Thai grain, should also be sceptical of these latest "real deals".
Mr Korn questioned the credibility of the claim, citing a report by Reuters news agency quoting a source from State Grain Administration, China’s state body responsible for grain trading and distribution, which said that talks had been taking place for some time but nothing had been settled so far.
Speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, the commerce minister confirmed that there is actually a rice deal, which will be formally inked either in China or Thailand in the next two weeks.
He named the Chinese buyer as Beidahuang, a Chinese state enterprise, and said the talks on the rice sale were in Heilongjiang province. Aside from the 1.2 million tonnes of rice deal, he said, Beidahuang was also interested to placing an order for 200,000 tonns of Thai rubber.
For all his defence of the existence of the rice deal, Mr Niwatthamrong omitted a key point, information that would lend credibility to his claim and his ability as a salesman – that is, the price being paid for the stockpiled grain. He simply said the price was "good".
Backing up the claim of a deal being made was confirmation from the Thai commercial attaché in Beijing. Again, how could the attaché, an official of the Commerce Ministry, say otherwise. Would he dare to contradict his boss?
Just how Mr Niwattharmong defines a "good price" is a question that nobody in the government, including the commerce minister himself, will ever give a straight answer to. My guess is that it may be on a par with the market price, or a bit lower, which means that for each tonne of rice sold then we, the taxpayers, will take a massive hit -- given that the 15,000 baht per tonne paid for unmilled rice under the pledging scheme is about 40% above the market price.
The commerce minister also claimed that rice stockpiles were now about 10 million tonnes, down from 17 million tonnes in June. Seven million tonnes of rice were sold in just three months? That is unbelievable!
Again, there is no credible evidence whatsoever to back up the claim. Who were the buyers? How much did each of them buy, and whether on government-to-government or private deals? What were the prices? When was the rice delivered or even shipped? Nothing at all from the ministry. Par for the course.
What we do know is that some 670 billion baht has already been spent to support the rice pledging scheme and the government recently approved another 270 billion baht for the 2013-14 main and second crop harvests.
Which means within two years, almost one trillion baht will have been spent, or wasted, to support a scheme supposedly to help our poor farmers improve their income and live a better life.
But who actually benefits from this scheme; who lives this "better life"? The poor farmers who most need it? Or just the government politicians and the officials who have a role in the scheme?