Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday turned the censure debate designed to scrutinise her into a platform to declare the government's achievements.
It was the first time that she had been targeted in a censure debate since she took the premier's post last August.
Yingluck has been criticised by the Democrats for rarely attending parliamentary meetings and avoiding answering questions posed to her by MPs. However, Yingluck has attended the current censure debate since Sunday, and yesterday seemed to have improved as an orator compared to previous performances.
She spoke fluently and was equipped with charts and statistics to back up her statements. A few times, Yingluck paused to find the notes for what she was going to say, and a few times she went back over topics she had raised before.
Nevertheless, when Opposition Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva focused his attack on the government's rice-pledging policy - Yingluck is the chairperson of the National Rice Policy Committee - she spent about seven minutes of her 45-minute reply clarifying the policy.
Abhisit said the government's rice-pledging policy would destroy the market mechanism, damage Thailand's competitiveness as a rice exporter and cause the government to lose a lot of money in subsidising the project. He said it contained loopholes for corruption at every step of the process, allowing rice-mill owners and middle-man traders to reap a large share of the benefits of the subsidies, which are supposed to help farmers.
Abhisit also accused Yingluck of allowing political interference in the military reshuffle despite a complaint being filed - a Democrat MP scrutinised the Defence Ministry's actions regarding this issue on Sunday - and allowing corruption despite her declaration to eradicate all graft. Moreover, unless she is prepared to take charge herself, she should have assigned a deputy to oversee the problems of the restive South, Abhisit said.
Yingluck, meanwhile, took the chance to promote what she had done as prime minister, including solving flood problems, and visiting 23 foreign countries to promote investment and confidence in Thailand, as well as its role in the global community.
"The number of tourists [in Thailand] has increased from 19.2 million in 2011 to 20.8 million, even though we faced flood problems. We joined hands in expediting rehabilitation and creating confidence among foreigners," she said.
Abhisit said the government's policy was actually a rice-buying - not a rice-pledging - policy, because the government buys the rice at a higher price than in the market, and no farmer would buy back the pledged rice. In response, Yingluck said her policy was only an option for farmers, who were free to find a better market to sell their crop to.
The government had allocated 410 billion baht (US$13 billion) for the scheme, which would ensure rice-price stability, she said.
The price of rice paddy had increased by 8 per cent in general, she said. The specific prices depend on the moisture content. "And as I said, the budget set for the [crop]-pledging scheme in a year would include the budget for cassava and rubber too, in the 410 billion baht. As of today, 359 billion baht has been spent," she said.
She added that the income from the scheme would gradually come in and that at the end of 2013, the government expected 240 billion-260 billion baht in income.
Use of information technology, the recording of every step of the rice-pledging process and silo construction projects in the future would help prevent corruption, she said.
According to polls, most people are happy with the rice-pledging scheme, she said. Regarding Thailand's competitiveness, a report from January to October showed Thailand ranked third in world exports, after Vietnam and India. But looking at average prices, Thai rice was sold at US$679 per tonne, compared with $445 for Vietnam. The rice export value was $3.897 billion.
"As a Thai, I prefer seeing the [big] sum of money to the [volume in] tonnes," she said.
On anti-corruption policies, Yingluck said she did not ignore a proposal by the National Anti-Corruption Commission to update regulations, as alleged by Abhisit, but said it was an ongoing process and there were legal issues to work on.
Yingluck also rebutted Abhisit's accusation that she had allowed corruption in the flood-relief schemes, saying they were transparent and the spending could be traced at http://www.pmocflood.com.
Earlier, Yingluck started by saying that many problems were waiting for her when she took office as the country's development had been disrupted over the preceding six or seven years. Political rifts and interrupted administrations caused investors to lose confidence. Her aim when taking the post was to move the country forward and restore unity, justice and the rule of law in a democratic system, the premier said.
She also said her Cabinet works as a team. Her role is to orchestrate by giving policies, she said.
"I work restlessly. I work seven days [a week]. I insist that I have determination in working and I respect both the legislative branch and the parliamentary system," she said after saying she had assigned ministers to clarify questions from MPs.
At the end of her statement, Yingluck told the meeting chairman that she would let ministers handle further clarifications in the censure debate.
Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University law lecturer Komsan Pokong said Yingluck was not the only one to avoid answering scrutiny. Deputy Interior Minister Chatt Kuldiloke did too, he said.
In Komsan's opinion, the government replied only to those questions it wanted to address and ignored other points. It didn't give this debate much prominence, as it was certain it would get the required majority of votes in the House.
Nantana Nantawaropas, dean of Krirk University's Political Communication College, said Yingluck answered the questions well to some extent, and had improved her political communication.
She said Yingluck did not have to answer all the questions, and might let others do the job. But in case the government could not clear up the doubts, the image of her leadership would be affected, Nantana said.
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