Sutep is trying to boost his image by pretending to be Robin Hood and collecting money from the rich to help the poor rice farmers. What an absurd and laughable idea! Pure and simple, Sutep and the Democrats are playing a political game to exploit rice farmers’ suffering.
At the moment Pua Thai is still the “caretaker” government, ever since parliament was dissolved for the general election. Therefore, it does not have the power to spend money. If they need to do so they have to consult with the Election Commission (EC), otherwise the government action would be unconstitutional. When Pua Thai asked the EC for permission to release money to rice farmers under the rice subsidy scheme, the EC said that the government has to make its own decision. But this is a trick to catch out the government and then accuse it of unconstitutional activity. This would pave the way for an appointed government of conservatives, just like Sutep’s demands. The government is trapped by administrative problems which come from the Democrats and the EC’s refuse to do their jobs.
The problems of the rice farmers are spiralling out of hand because of Sutep and the Democrats’ attempts to wreck the election and prevent the formation of a democratically elected government.
The reality is that Sutep and the Democrats, plus their neo-liberal academic friends, have always been against the rice subsidy policy because they opposed to the state intervening in the free-market. In fact, Thailand is not a poor country and the sum of money that needs to be spent in supporting rice farmers is considerably smaller than the military budget or money spent on state ceremonies.
The rice subsidy policy is one of the best policies of the Pua Thai government and was initially used by Thai Rak Thai before the 2006 coup. The military-backed Democrat government abolished it. The policy helps poor rice farmers have a secure income. In the past government funding would fall into the hands of middle men in the rice trade, who would make a deal with farmers by holding down the price. Farmers would be charged with high interest rates if they got loans from private banks or shark loans to tide them over. Before Thai Rak Thai, previous governments had no idea at all how to plan production in agriculture sectors in a way that would benefit and provide security to farmers. They left this business in the hands of giant agribusiness companies such as CP, who control the agricultural market.
The Pua Thai government has tried to fix the problem by giving the funding directly to farmers. Pua Thai has improved on the Thai Rak Thai scheme by taking over the role of the middle men. They buy rice directly from farmers and pay in cash. The policy has created huge anger among the middle men. No farmer wanted to sell their rice to the middle men any more. However, the project is far from flawless because the big land owners can access large sums of government funding because they can grow more rice then small farmers. However Pua Thai has been discussing putting an upper limit on the subsidy.
Another problem is that Pua Thai’s calculations of the costs of the programme were based on “market forces” pushing up the price of rice, but the global recession and China’s economic slow-down has affected all agricultural products such as rice, sugar and rubber, pushing down prices.
The extreme neo-liberal Thai Development Research Institute and Sutep’s Democrats have fiercely criticised Pua Thai for spending “too much money” to support farmers. But they never criticise the huge military budget.
Photo credit from (Mthai web)