Govt-Farmers Rice Money Dialogue Collapses

(10 February) Negotiation between dissenting farmers and government representatives over the controversial rice-pledging scheme came to an end without any agreement.

Rice farmers from many provinces have previously marched to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence Office to demand answers for the money the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra currently owes them under the program.

The protesters were led by Mr. Rawee Rungrueang, President of Western Region Rice Centre and Mr. Kittisak Rattanawaraha, President of Lower Northern Region Farmers Network.

The farmers initially refused to negotiate with the government representatives inside the prepared venue, insisting that the officials must meet them in the protest site to show their sincerity.

However, military personnel managed to persuade with farmers to send 20 representatives to talk with the government officials inside the building.

Representing the Yingluck administration were Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, and Deputy Minister of Commerce, Mr. Nattawuth Saikuea.

The pair was also joined by Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperative, Mr. Warathep Rattanakorn, and Permanent Secretary of the Defence Ministr,y Mr. Nipat Thonglek, who entered the negotiation on behalf of the Prime Minister herself.

It was the most high-profile talk between the farmers and the administration so far.
 
Mr. Rawee stated that the farmers are seeking solid answers from the government regarding how exactly it would solve the issue, after it has repeatedly postponed the payment promised to the farmers since 31 January.
 
The farmers had previously tried to pressure their provincial Governors for the answer – to no avail, Mr. Rawee complained. Today, Mr. Rawee said, they marched in the hope to meet the Prime Minister, who chairs the president of The National Rice Policy Committee.
 
“We do not have any political agenda”, Mr. Rawee declared, “We will return home today if we are paid. But all other farmers across the country must be paid at the same time, to avoid favouritism”.
 
He added, “We hope the government understand we are in distress. We only wonder when we will get the money, and we want the government to tell the truth”
 
Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong replied that the government had already approved the budget of 60 billion baht for 2012-2013 cultivating year. Farmers who missed the annual budget deadline must sign up to Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperations (BAAC) to be qualified for the payment in the next budget year, Mr. Niwatthamrong said.
 
Mr. Niwatthamrong later blamed the anti-government protesters, who had pressured several commercial banks to avoid funding the rice scheme, for the government’s financial shortage. He then begged farmers to help persuading the banks to give out loans to the government.
 
The government is bound to pay another 712 million baht to 3,000 farmers, Mr. Natthawut said, adding that the debate about the budget will be conducted tomorrow, before the issue can be proposed to the Office of Election Commission (EC) for their legal advice.
 
The negotiation later went on intensely until some farmers walked off the negotiation table. Many had demanded that the government state the exact time they will pay the farmers for the mortgaged rice, while some reportedly yelled at the government representatives, “We are in troubles, we have nothing to do with politics!”.

One farmer angrily said that “I am a Redshirt. I elected Mr. Nattawut myself, but now I have to argue with my wife everyday since we are in bankruptcy … If the government would return me my rice, I am willing to take it all. Why would I elect you, if you are so unreliable?”

Eventually all farmer representatives left the meeting room, after posing two demands to the government: to sell the rice and use the money to pay them as soon as possible, and to organise a functioning government so that the decision to resolve the matter can be legally approved.

If the government of Ms. Yingluck fails to do so, they might as well just resign and allow someone else with adequate authority to step in, the farmers said. 

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