Problems from day one, says key politician
DEMOCRAT Party key figure Warong Dechgitvigrom realised just days after the 2011 election that a full-scale implementation of a rice mortgage scheme by Yingluck Shinawatra’s government would open up many problems.
As the party’s so-called “Shadow Cabinet” member for commerce, Warong already knew from talking to people involved in the rice trading that the then-government’s rice-pledging scheme had flaws, not least of which was that it opened doors for corruption both large and small.
Warong was convinced that every rice grain mortgaged under the scheme would be plagued by potential corruption.
“Generally, it was widely perceived that a rice mortgage is corrupt in principle,” he told The Nation. “As the government introduced the scheme to take every grain of rice, it was a sure bet that it [corruption] would happen,” said Warong. “My view was that it’s not farmers who would benefit from the scheme as claimed by Pheu Thai Party, but traders and distributors of rice who would instead.”
And he assumed that there would be flaws in the programme that would inevitably lead to corruption.
Warong decided he had to closely watch how the scheme was rolled out and run. And thus began his “detective” work into the Yingluck government’s rice mortgage scheme as he began to seriously investigate the government-to-government deal with a Chinese firm claiming to represent the government of China.
For months, Warong travelled extensively to meet farmers, rice traders, millers, exporters and many others to study the rice cycle in detail, and organise and test his ideas. He came to understand the rice cycle, dividing it into three stages: rice production, rice stocking and rice distribution, the most problematic part.
Warong focused on monitoring activities involving the second and third stages of the cycle, and eventually stumbled upon irregularities, some due to his team’s efforts, others by luck.
“One day I received a call from some millers who informed me that there would be rice moved from one province to another. So I sent my team to accompany a truck driver for a few days so that they would not be suspected, and they were able to collect evidence for me,” said Warong.
What his team discovered was that some degrading rice was being transported from one silo to another to allegedly benefit from the prices guaranteed under the scheme. One team member was discovered, but he narrowly escaped the scene by telling silo owners that he was with them and had come to check their silos to ensure they would take degra-ding rice from his boss. Recognising the danger of the undercover work, Warong chose men that he could trust who were close to him as they had to be able to keep the secret, he said.
Along the border, irregularities involving the transport of rice from neighbouring countries also took place as poor quality rice was transported across the border in order |to claim benefits from the scheme.
Warong did not hesitate to look into the details after being tipped off by some Thai-Khmer residents who had called him. They also helped film the activities, which showed many trucks transporting rice across the border before ending up at silos inside Thailand.
Warong personally went to Prachin Buri to observe the cross-border transport and confirmed the truth of claims. Along with that evidence on the ground, Warong by chance received related documents and contracts from people he calls “citizens with good faith”. To get the documents without putting informers at risk, Warong drove past the sources without stopping while they threw the papers into his car.
“It was just like a detective movie,” recalled Warong, who later got help from friends to decode the documents. He then used that information to kick-start a motion in Parliament to expose irregularities in the scheme.
After he and his team put together the jigsaw puzzle of evidence, Warong says he found corroborating details about alleged irregularities in the scheme. In particular, he said the documents gave him insights into rice distribution and trade that he saw as allegedly linking irregularities to government ministers and to their boss, the then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
To this day, Warong does not talk about many of the details around his detective work.
“I must say it was a dangerous task,” he said. “Everything had to be kept in secret and done in a secret manner. Even today, I have not yet disclosed all of my informants as they would definitely be targeted if exposed.”
And now? It is up to the court to rule after seeing all the documentary evidence, and hearing all the witnesses that have appeared before the judges, he concluded.