Flustered PM orders commerce minister to reveal details of rice-pledging scheme to ratings agency
The government yesterday ordered immediate verification of the status of the rice-pledging scheme in a bid to determine its profitability – and counter a warning by Moody’s rating agency that the controversial policy could hurt the Thai economy and cause a downgrade of its credit rating.
During the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra instructed Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to reveal the details of the scheme’s operating costs, now reportedly a massive loss of Bt260 billion.
The government was grilled about the scheme by the opposition in the 2014 budget bill debate last week.
During the debate, Boonsong said that the Bt260 billion loss, reportedly cited in an unofficial Finance Ministry report, associated with the scheme was groundless. But he did not produce any proof to support his claim.
Deputy Commerce Minister Natthawut Saikua was also ordered yesterday to help Boonsong with compilation and verification of the figures relating to the scheme. Prior to the Cabinet meeting, Yingluck appeared irritated by persistent questions by reporters about the figures, following the warning by Moody’s on Monday.
When asked repeatedly, the PM said: “I told you, that those responsible for finding out the [actual] figures associated with the scheme will make them public later.” Asked if the scheme losing such a huge amount would affect her as prime minister, she said “Enough!”, and walked off.
Yingluck said she had ordered the Finance Ministry to closely follow up on Moody’s statement and analyses, and prepare any information for the rating’s agency if requested.
Natthawut, speaking after the Cabinet meeting, said Yingluck had approved his idea to launch a mobile public relations campaign to raise awareness of the rice-pledging scheme with farmers across the country. The first event would be held in Phitsanulok on Sunday (June 9).
Explanations would be given to farmers during the rally, while a compilation of details on the scheme would be collected. The Bt260 billion figure was likely to be inaccurate and calculated from a “misuse of criteria”, he said.
The scheme would see around Bt140 billion in prospective returns, and still a huge amount of rice stockpiled in the government’s custody. He said the Finance Ministry “refused to give the official figures to him” at his request, but he now wondered how a Democrat MP had acquired and posted the figures on his Facebook page.
A Commerce Ministry fact-finding to determine the figures had commenced as ordered by Yingluck, he said.
Commerce Ministry permanent secretary Watcharee Wimuktayon said on Monday, that without official details from the Finance Ministry, the Bt260 billion figure seemed exaggerated. She said the scheme spent around Bt600 million in two years’ budget, plus a large amount before the Yingluck government took office.
She said rice left over and held by the government would be deducted from the Bt260 billion amount and the criteria used by the Finance Ministry committee on budget-closing responsible for the rice scheme would be studied on how it came up with such a figure.
Watcharee said had sought to get official figures from the committee, but was allegedly told the figures were classified, by order of Finance Ministry leaders.
A Pheu Thai source said a party meeting last weekend discussed economic issues faced by the Yingluck government and agreed to assign Weerawuth Wajjanaphukka, Boonsong’s secretary, to make announcements on the government stance on Moody’s warning this week. Weerawuth had failed to deliver, while Boonsong had also stayed silent over the issue, despite the Commerce Ministry being supposed to make clarifications to the public over the figures.
“The responsibility now rests with the Commerce Ministry, which has to try further if it cannot produce figures to counter the Finance Ministry,” the source said.
Deputy Bank of Thailand governor Pongpen Ruengvirayudh said the warning by Moody’s had affected Thailand’s image, and if it downgraded Thailand’s credit rating, this would affect domestic and overseas investment, plus mobilisation of capital by both the public and private sectors.
She said Moody’s warning needed to be double-checked and balanced by actual figures on profitability of the rice scheme from the Commerce Ministry. “It’s a responsibility of Thai authorities to give actual figures to Moody’s,” she noted.