23 May 2024

The whistle blower in the infamous Yingluck Shinawatra administration’s rice pledging scheme, Dr Warong Dechgitvigrom, has warned Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai and the Pheu Thai party “not to play with fire by messing with the rice issue”.

Dr. Warong, chairman of the conservative Thai Pakdee party, was referring to Phumtham’s recent visit to a warehouse in Surin province, where over 100,000 sacks of rice, bought under the rice pledging scheme about a decade ago, are still being stored.

The minister, some officials and a group of reporters ate cooked rice from the warehouse in an effort to prove that the rice is still edible and safe, after being washed 15 times in water before being cooked.

He also said that the ministry plans to sell the remaining 15,000 tonnes of rice to “some African countries” as old rice, which could fetch about 200 million baht, instead of letting the rice rot in the warehouse.

Phumtham’s rice-eating PR move is being seen by some as an attempt to whitewash the claim that the rice, bought under the corruption-plagued scheme, is not edible, is only good for turning into bio fuel and to claim that the damage from the scheme is not as extensive as claimed by its opponents.

In his Facebook post today, Dr Warong said there has been an attempt by the government to sell the remaining rice through auction, but he questioned why the winners of three previous auctions declined to take delivery.

He added that a fourth auction was abruptly called off the day prior to the scheduled auction.

Quoting rice experts, Dr Warong said that 10-year-old rice is not suitable for human or animal consumption, because the grains contain toxins.

From a marketing perspective, he said that the sale of the rice to African countries could ruin the Thai rice export market.

If the rice-eating stunt was intended to whitewash the infamous rice pledging scheme, the result will be just the opposite, as it will revive the decade-old scandal and may lead to further revelations.

Democrat party spokesman Ramet Rattanachaweng advised the government to think carefully about any attempt to “whitewash” the rice pledging scheme by trying to sell the decade-old rice.

He suggested that the government send samples of the rice to experts, to check its quality, safety and edibility.

He also warned that exporting the old rice may ruin the reputation of all Thai rice.