World Bulletin / News Desk
Deputy prime minister-cum-defense minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told local reporters after a cabinet meeting Tuesday that the military government had already approved the subsidy scheme.
“The government is working to solve the issue, why should there be demonstrations?” he added.
The new rice subsidy scheme proposes that farmers growing jasmine rice be offered two options. Either they receive financial help to store their crop until the market price increases, or they sell their crop immediately to the government at market price and receive some financial support for quality improvement.
Thai rice farmers are preparing to harvest their paddies, but the market price for their crop stands at $143 per ton -- the lowest in decades.
In an emotional scene, a 63-year-old rice farmer prostrated himself before Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa, permanent secretary of commerce, and begged for help during his visit to Phichit province over the weekend.
In a video clip that went viral on the Internet last week, another rice farmer pleaded with junta-chief-cum-prime minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to rescue farmers.
In the last few days, campaigns have been organized online to help despairing rice farmers to directly sell their crop to consumers, so as to cut the costs of millers and middlemen.
Kasetsart University, a Thai institution specializing in agricultural studies, is offering free space to rice farmers for them to sell their crops on campus.
The new subsidy scheme was announced two weeks after the junta ordered former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to pay 35 billion-baht ($997 million) in damages for losses caused by an ambitious but financially disastrous rice subsidy scheme under her government, which was overthrown in May 2014 coup.
She has 45 days to appeal the order and has vowed to fight the charges.
Shinawatra is also facing criminal charges of negligence and malfeasance with regard to the scheme -- launched in October 2011 as part of her Pheu Thai party election promise -- along with other members of her cabinet.
Shortly after the coup, Shinawatra was impeached and banned from politics for five years in relation to the same scheme, which bought rice from farmers at prices 50 percent above market prices.
The irony was not lost on everyone.
“By giving subsidies a bad name and turning the policy into a political weapon against Ms Yingluck, the military regime has cornered itself,” wrote Atiya Achakulwisut, a contributing editor at the Bangkok Post.
“With public sympathy decidedly with despairing rice farmers at the moment, it’s the subsidy-bashing junta that has found itself in a tight spot.”