Ms Supa told the media on Monday that the rice pledging scheme might have racked up losses totalling 400 billion baht for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 harvests.News of her comments went viral and quickly landed at the Commerce Ministry, where Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan hastened to issue a denial.
He said the losses were not as high as claimed by Ms Supa, although he did not mention her name.He also said all agencies involved in the rice scheme should not be so quick to jump to conclusions about the losses inherent in implementation of the government's populist policy. The Commerce Ministry was still in the process of selling rice to potential customers and, therefore, was not yet in a position to present a finished accounting of the scheme's finances.Mr Niwatthamrong said there were now about 10 million tonnes of rice in the government stockpile, abut half of which was already committed to be sold and to be delivered before the year's end.Whether the five million tonnes of rice already committed included the claimed 1.2 million tonnes deal with the Chinese state firm Beidahuang or not was not clear -- because as usual he did not give any details of these purported sales, deemed too secret for us to know.
However, he did promise in mid-September that the Chinese rice deal would be inked in two weeks.Anyway, I wish him luck as the Commerce Ministry needs a lot of luck to clear out the huge rice stockpile – 10 million tonnes according to the ministry – so it will have the money to pay the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, which has already advanced the money to pay the farmers for their crops.
Also, the space is urgently needed to store the coming harvest. The Commerce Ministry kick-started the rice pledging scheme for the 2013-14 harvest on Tuesday.But foremost of all, the Commerce Minstry must come clean and be transparent. It is a fact there is no way that the ministry will be able to sell the rice – whether by government-to-government deals or private deals – at what it has cost taxpayers. Selling at around half the cost price, and taking a huge loss, is unavoidable, but the ministry must be honest about this, and ready to give people the full details. It's their money after all, not the minister's.As for our iron lady, I hope she will not be removed from her current responsibility or be subject to another investigation by her boss, Finance Minister Kittirat Na-Ranong, for her latest revelations. Ms Supa is a rare breed, a model bureaucrat, fearless and not afraid to tell the truth in protecting the national interest.
She is, as a Thai popular saying goes, "a pig not afraid of hot water" - fearless and not afraid of the consequences.However, in the eyes of the government our iron lady appears as a black sheep, and she may not have a great future in the Finance Ministry -- unlike several of her peers who choose to be submissive and secure their future. One permanent secretary who has just retired will be for ever remembered for her foolish statement: "It is only in the imagination of consumers that prices of consumer products have gone up."With her distinguished qualifications and integrity, Ms Supa can choose her career path and prosper without having to appease the politicians or having to stick at the Finance Ministry until her retirement. According to one report, she is applying for a job at the National Anti-Corruption Commission, where she may feel more at home and where she may be able to do more than just whistleblowing.Good luck Ms Supa!