By The Nation
FORMER Finance minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong has strongly defended former premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s implementation of the controversial rice-pledging scheme before the Supreme Court’s criminal division for holders of political office.
Kittiratt told the court the scheme was well-planned in terms of its economic worthiness and there was no fiscal mismanagement as alleged by the public |prosecutors.
Former PM Yingluck is facing charges of negligence of her official duty in overseeing the rice-pledging scheme, which cost taxpayers more than Bt500 billion.
Kittiratt, also a former deputy PM of the Yingluck government, said the project was necessary in terms of addressing the economic inequality faced by farmers and low-income people, while the target groups were 3.7 million farm households or a total of 15 million people.
On the Bt15,000-per-tonne rice-pledging price, Kittiratt said the price, which doubled the prevailing market price, was based on farmers’ production costs and a minimum wage of Bt300 per day, as the Yingluck government had also raised the starting salary for new graduates with a bachelor’s degree to Bt15,000 per month.
He said there were studies on the merits of rice-pledging schemes in comparison with other methods to help farmers such as farm price insurance schemes implemented by previous governments.
However, these studies found that farmers did not get the guaranteed price as stated and there were difficulties in verifying in the |registration of farmers qualified to join the insurance schemes since rice crops took only two to three months before they were ready for harvesting.
The former minister said funds used in the rice-pledging scheme came from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, as with loans guaranteed by the Finance Ministry, while the government at the time ensured that working funds used in the scheme did not exceed Bt500 billion.
Asked why the Yingluck government did not suspend the scheme after receiving repeated warnings from anti-graft authorities, he said the arguments used in these official warnings were based on problems of previous rice-pledging schemes.
And he said, the government was told the scheme was economically worthwhile – the National Economic and Social Development Board at the time had insisted farmers would be better off as a result of the scheme.
Kittiratt told the court there were significant sales of rice bought from farmers under the scheme and he was confident the government would have been able to empty its inventory if there had been no coup in 2014.
On the role of Yingluck in the procedure, Kittiratt said, the former premier, who was chairman of the National Rice Policy Committee, had told members of the committee to implement the scheme with transparency.
Liability claim postponed
Meanwhile, Yingluck said there was now a 30-day postponement on the Central Administrative Court’s hearing on her request seeking an injunction against the Prayut govern-ment’s executive order to confiscate her assets in a civil liability concerning alleged wrongdoing in the rice-pledging scheme.
In this separate civil liability claim, the Prayut government is seeking Bt35 billion in compensation from Yingluck due to the huge losses that were incurred by the rice-pledging scheme.
But the former premier has argued that criminal and other related cases are still pending in court so the civil liability case should not proceed at this stage.