By THE NATION
THE PHEU Thai Party has sent an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urging the government to review recent sales of huge rice inventory resulting from the previous government’s rice-pledging scheme.
The letter highlights the lack of transparency and alleged irregularities in selling the inventory to the private sector, especially with regard to the classification method for various grades of rice held by the government in multiple privately owned warehouses.
The alleged irregularities have led to significant financial damage, while some warehouse operators also urged the government to review the bidding method. However, the letter says the government has so far ignored the call for change.
Pheu Thai said the existing measures are vulnerable to abuse by state officials and private businesses.
First, most rice is classified as “low” or “C grade” without proper quality inspection. As a result, the rice cannot be sold as human food, which would get a higher price than selling for use as animal feed or for the energy sector.
Despite the classification as low grade, most warehouses said they have kept the rice in good condition and insisted that the quality remains suitable for human consumption.
Second, the letter says such a classification has resulted in a low bidding price for the inventory.
Third, some businessmen earlier offered to buy the rice at several warehouses at a relatively high price, but a government working group in charge of selling the rice was not interested. Instead, the working group decided to sell the rice to another firm at a lower price.
For example, there was an offer to buy 100 per cent Hom Mali rice totalling 14,000 tonnes at Bt11.25 per kilogram but it was turned down, according to the letter. This rice was sold to another bidder at Bt6.1 per kilogram. This was also opposed by the warehouse owner and other parties, but the working group did not make any change to the selling decision.
As a result, the government faced a bigger loss from selling the rice inventory.
Fourth, the letter says, some rice buyers do not have credible financial records. They could be nominees for other parties in bidding for the government’s rice inventory and this could lead to corruption. Pheu Thai said field inspection showed that the government could face more financial damage if these sales were not reviewed.
The prime minister, in his capacity as chairman of the national rice policy committee, should issue an order to thoroughly review the recent sales of rice owned by the government, insisted the letter. In addition, it should cancel the sales of rice to the feedmill or energy sectors if it were suitable for human consumption.
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