Move Forward investigating fishy spending by Rice Department

BANGKOK (The Nation/Asia News Network): The Move Forward Party said on Thursday (June 8) that it found irregularities in the 9.5-million-baht budget that the Rice Department had requested for a fair to mark National Rice and Farmer's Day on June 6.

A fair was originally scheduled for June 1-7 at the Golden Jubilee Museum of Agriculture in Pathum Thani province.

It was to be organised by the Rice Department to promote the use of technology to reduce farmers’ production costs.

The Move Forward Party received a complaint from officials at the Rice Department saying the budget for the fair was too high and that there might have been irregularities in the budget planning, the party’s deputy spokesman, Karoonpon Tieansuwan, told a press conference on Thursday.

Initial investigations found that the budget was initially set at 15 million baht with a goal of holding a seven-day fair for at least 25,000 people in Pathum Thani, Karoonpon said.

“On April 19, due to unforeseeable circumstances that prevented the department from organising a large event, it decided to change the plan to host three smaller events with a budget of 7.5 million baht,” he said.

These events included a fair at the Rice Department’s headquarters in Bangkok on June 5-6 that had a budget of less than 3 million baht, a fair at a rice research institute in Phitsanulok province on June 16-17 (1.5 million baht), and a fair at a Nakhon Ratchasima rice institute on June 23-24 (1.5 million baht).

Another 1.5 million baht was earmarked for public relations.

However, on May 9, the department increased its requested budget for the fair in Bangkok to 5 million baht, saying it would extend the event to three days instead of two, Karoonpon said.

“The details in the new budget request were also suspicious,” he said. The department raised the cost of organising the exhibition from 400,000 to 1 million baht, and increased the award for rice farmers who had demonstrated extraordinary performances from 100,000 to 500,000 baht, he explained.

The complaint also asked Move Forward to investigate the transparency of the selection of event organisers, saying the department had not used the standard e-bidding procedure.

Instead, it used a method that took prices submitted by selected contractors.

However, only one contractor submitted bids, Karoonpon said.

“Based on the selection documents, four organisers were invited to submit bids, but only one actually submitted [them] and won the contract in all three locations. This company has a long record of working with the Rice Department,” Karoonpon explained.

“Furthermore, the contract was signed on May 29, suspiciously close to the date of the first event, on June 5, despite the department having months to plan for it,” he added.

Move Forward investigating fishy spending by Rice Department

Karoonpon said he also suspected that the fairs were held at three different places on different dates so that the organiser could save costs by using the same materials at all three fairs.

He also said that the public relations budget of 1.5 million baht for three fairs in different locations seemed insufficient to attract local farmers and the public.

Move Forward has assigned a team to conduct an in-depth investigation, and plans to investigate similar incidents at other departments, Karoonpon said.

“A budget of less than 10 million baht might seem small, but we don’t know how many similar incidents are happening. Together, they could account for a large budget that could have been used to actually boost the country’s competitiveness,” he said.

“It is time for the new government led by Move Forward to step up and work with the people to ensure transparency in state budget management. We will not tolerate inappropriate budget disbursements that fail to benefit the people,” he said.

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Thailand , Move Forward , rice , budget , investigation


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