News / Asia

    Controversial Rice Scheme Risks Thai Ruling Party's Popularity

    Daniel Schearf
    Thailand's unfinished election means the current caretaker government cannot create any new debt, leaving rice farmers owed billions of dollars as part of a budget-busting, controversial subsidy program. The ruling party campaigned on the subsidy plan, which analysts now say has become a spectacular failure.

    The embattled government came to power pledging increased incomes for rice farmers through a plan that pays up to 40 percent above market price for all the grain they can sell.

    The rice pledging program encouraged over-production and made Thai rice uncompetitive for export, ballooning government spending by billions and creating a mountain of stored grain.

    A Chinese company Wednesday pulled out of a deal to buy over a million tons of stockpiled Thai rice.

    The collapsed deal struck a blow to the government's efforts to off-load an estimated 20 million tons in danger of rotting in warehouses.

    Ammar Siamwalla of the Thailand Development Research Institute says the program also appears rife with corruption.

    “Very shady. And, most of it is in the disposal of the rice, in the sale of the rice," he said. "And, it is not shady, it is completely dark... Because no figures are ever revealed."

    The rice pledging scheme in 2012 cost Thailand the title of world's biggest rice exporter, a position it had held for three decades.

    Reports of cheaper rice smuggled from neighboring Burma and Cambodia and sold as "Thai rice" further tarnish the program's image.

    Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is investigating Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's role in the rice scheme that could see her impeached.

    Several other officials, including a former commerce minister, are being investigated for corruption over the policy.

    The subsidy is an expansion of populist programs by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, that included cheap loans and affordable health care for the countryside.

    Those policies helped Thaksin get elected twice before he was ousted by the military in a 2006 coup.

    Ammar Siamwalla says newer policies, including tablet computers for school kids and tax rebates for first time car owners, show mixed results.

    “The health care is probably the best policy the Thai government, any Thai government, has ever implemented... Just as the rice pledging scheme, the current rice pledging scheme, is the worst policy any Thai government has ever implemented,” he said.

    Farmers hold signs in front of a combine harvester during a rally demanding the Yingluck administration resolve delays in payment from the rice-pledging scheme outside the Commerce Ministry in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Feb. 6, 2014Farmers hold signs in front of a combine harvester during a rally demanding the Yingluck administration resolve delays in payment from the rice-pledging scheme outside the Commerce Ministry in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Feb. 6, 2014
    x
    Farmers hold signs in front of a combine harvester during a rally demanding the Yingluck administration resolve delays in payment from the rice-pledging scheme outside the Commerce Ministry in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Feb. 6, 2014
    Farmers hold signs in front of a combine harvester during a rally demanding the Yingluck administration resolve delays in payment from the rice-pledging scheme outside the Commerce Ministry in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Feb. 6, 2014
    Thailand's anti-government protesters, supported by the opposition, cite the rice program as a failure of the ruling party's populist rule. 

    Thousands have occupied major Bangkok intersections since January and are encouraging farmers to join them in calls for an un-elected reform council to take over government and clean up corruption.

    The protesters tried to stop the February 2 national elections by blocking candidate registrations and voters.  Legal challenges and by-elections are expected to take months to complete.

    The standoff over elections means rice farmers, not paid in months, have longer to wait.

    But most are still reluctant to turn on the politicians who supported them.

    Rice farmer Thitiya Boonkhean is owed $6,000. She now sells anti-government T-shirts to protesters to make a living.

    She says she is neutral in the political dispute and does not favor any side.  She wishes the two sides would hold talks and come to an understanding.  Farmers are now facing great hardships, she says, as they have not received any money from the rice pledging scheme.

    There are signs farmers are losing patience.  Some are blocking roads in protest against the withheld payments and on Thursday petitioned Thailand's government and the revered monarch for help.

    But so far, their numbers are small.

    Prime Minister Yingluck says, if re-elected, she will revise the rice pledging scheme but has not yet said in what way the bloated program will change.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: John Desin from: Australia
    February 06, 2014 10:12 PM
    Good article, although you failed to highlight how the rice subsidy is seen by anti government protesters as anti-democratic. Hence their calls for impeachment of the prime minister for corruption. It also explains why they don't want elections under the current circumstances as they are outnumbered by rice farmers in the north who have been bridged and brainwashed by Thaksin supporters and his henchmen.
    In Response

    by: Sly from: Taiwan
    February 10, 2014 10:43 AM
    Yes, absolutely right. non of the articles dealing with rice scheme in Thailand mention about corruption and elections...

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora