Thai protest leader mocks government’s rice scheme: Thailand’s fiery anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban denounced the government’s battered rice-buying scheme as corrupt on Wednesday, piling on more pressure on the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration.
The rice programme was one of the populist policies pioneered by Ms Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose overthrow in a 2006 military coup led to the deeply divided political polarisation that has plagued the country ever since.
Generous subsidies for farmers under the rice programme were a centerpiece of the platform that swept Ms Yingluck into power in a landslide election in 2011.
However, the scheme has left Thailand with vast stockpiles of rice and a bill it is struggling to fund , say reports.
“Yingluck took farmers’ rice more than seven months ago and hasn’t paid them,” Suthep said to his supporters on Wednesday.
“Some of them have killed themselves and some of them are crying in front of the television because they don’t have a penny… The government said the rice-purchasing policy was to help farmers but instead the policy became part of the government’s corruption machine.”
Losses to taxpayers are estimated at 200 billion baht a year, and have resulted in protests against Ms Yingluck’s government. Payment problems risk alienating the farmers at the heart of her upcountry support base in the north and northeast.
Ms Yingluck and her government are currently being investigated by an anti-graft panel for alleged irregularities in the rice-buying scheme.
The rice programme is nearing collapse after China cancelled an order for 1.2 million tonnes due to a corruption probe.
The state-run Krung Thai Bank joined other lenders in announcing it will not provide loans urgently needed to rescue the programme which has at times been buying rice at prices up to two-thirds above the prevailing benchmark rates.
“Farmers who took their rice to milling houses received just over 10,000 baht ($310) when the price they were guaranteed was 15,000 baht,” Suthep told supporters at a rally in Bangkok’s central business district.
“The rest of the money went to into the mouths of the dogs … Each of these dogs is fat,” he said.
Ms Yingluck told reporters, “These problems stem from the dissolution of parliament (last year) which made it difficult under the framework of the law to approve payments”.
“Whether this scheme is extended or not is up to the next government… Everyone knows that the government does not have the power to do anything that will affect the incoming government so this issue may take time to resolve,” she said.