THAILAND: Rubber proposal bounces back

The cabinet yesterday (20 Apr. 2011) decided to continue the 800,000 rai para rubber plantation promotion scheme despite a request by the National Anti-Corruption Commission to delay the controversial project.

However, it still acknowledged the NACC's suggestion by ordering the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to carry out the scheme, and in conjunction with the Budget Bureau, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the National Economic and Social Development Board, to inspect areas where problems are reported.

The cabinet resolution was announced by Agriculture and Cooperatives Deputy Minister Supachai Phosu who urged further support for the project as "it did benefit farmers".

"And most cabinet members agreed with that."However his ministry was only allowed to push ahead with rubber growing already approved for the first year of the 2010-2012 third phase plan.

Whether to carry out rubber growing for the remaining years will be considered later by the new government, according to Mr Supachai.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, a member of the National Rubber Policy Committee, said any problems in the project must be separated from government policy so as to improve people's lives.

"The government policy to create careers for people and boost their revenue must go on and any corruption that is uncovered will be acted on," he said.

The NACC wanted the government to delay the policy's third phase, which aims to plant rubber trees on 800,000 rai (one rai=1,600 sq m) of land, because it found a range of problems especially among northeastern planters during the policy's second phase which was carried out between 2004 and 2006.

The second phase is targeted at 1 million rai of land in the North and the Northeast.

According to the NACC, many planters lacked sufficient knowledge concerning the care of rubber trees, many of which died or did not grow well.

The commission also found alleged irregularities involving the acquisition and delivery of rubber saplings to planters which led to a suspicion that some state officials might be involved in corrupt activities.

The NACC suggested the government carefully examine the problems in the second phase before going ahead with the next phase of the scheme.

Promotion of rubber plantations without enough attention to location, farmers' capability and possible corruption could lead to a waste of funds and "cause serious damage to the state", the NACC said.

The commission's concern was also echoed by the National Economic and Social Development Board which also wanted the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to delay the third phase of the scheme.

Though the third phase was agreed in principle by the cabinet and a number of farmers have joined it, the government was urged to call a temporary halt and carefully study flaws in the second phase.

It is crucial for the government to carry out the scheme transparently to gain trust from all state agencies, the board said.(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)