(16 January) The Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperative (BAAC) has revealed that its budget is not enough to pay farmers who had engaged in the government's rice pledging scheme.
According to the BAAC, its maximum budget currently consists of 10 billion baht, and the money can only sustain the payment in the rice program until 22 January.
But Mr. Prasit Boonchoei, the President of Thai Rice Farmers Association, said the government is still bound to pay over 80 billion baht of the guaranteed rice pledging price to the farmers, as well as interests for withholding the payment which was due 3 months ago.
Mr. Prasit added that members of his association is planning to sue the government after the Finance Ministry admitted its incapability to fulfill the pledging contracts they had made with the farmers.
Farmers in many provinces also claimed that the controversial policy has put them in fund shortage for next season’s cultivation, according to Mr. Prasit.
It is the latest blow to the controversial rice mortgage mortgage program, which has been the cornerstone of populist policies pursued by the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Just today, farmers in Ratchaburi province also submitted an open letter to Mr. Nisit Chantrasomwong, the Governor of Ratchaburi, complaining that more than 16,000 farmers have never been paid for their pledged rice.
Reportedly, only 20% of 20,000 farmers had received the money, and the rest is promised to receive the money from the government in total of 1.9 billion baht. The group demanded for the payment by 20 January, as the new cultivating season will soon start on 3 February.
BAAC, which is responsible for handing out the payment to farmers, has suspended the payment to farmers and instead submitted its consultation regarding the eligibility of the scheme to the Office of the Election Commission (ECT), lest the payment amounts to vote-buying as the 2 February general election is approaching.
However, the BAAC later backtracked the decision, and the fate of the rice payment is now in limbo.
According to Mr. Tanusak Lek-Uthai, Deputy Minister of Finance and General Manager of BAAC, the payment in the scheme is currently depending on the decision of BAAC board. Mr. Tanusak also said he had disagreed with the BAAC′s decision to get ECT involved in the first place.
“They [BAAC Board] should not worry too much about politics, as it is the lawful process [to pay the farmers]. The decision had been made even before the dissolution of the parliament, there is no need to consult with ECT,” stated Mr. Tanusak, who further complained that “I had tried every possible way to pay the farmers as promised by 15 Jan"
However, the BAAC decided to suppress the payment. "Now I know that my future is not as bright as it was anymore, because I could not keep my promise," Mr. Tanusak lamented.
Meanwhile, Mr. Suwit Rotjanawanich, Bond Market Consultant from Public Debt Management Office (PDMO), suggested that if the ECT agreed to approve the 130 billion baht public lending for the scheme, the decision will be passed on to the Cabinet, who would in turn facilitate the money to the farmers.
Another 13 billion baht lending under the 410 billion baht framework will gradually be paid to BAAC to support the scheme, Mr. Suwit said.
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