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Thai officials to look into impeachment of PM Yingluck over rice subsidy scheme

Caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra,faces impeachment and criminal investigations by Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission for her involvement in the country’s rice subsidy scheme.

KHON KAEN, Thailand: Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission will conduct impeachment and criminal investigations against caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, for her involvement in the country’s rice subsidy scheme.

Besides the probes, Ms Yingluck and her interim government are also facing pressure from farmers who participated in the programme but have not been paid for their grains.

It has been a long wait for 84-year-old Onsa Sirichom, a rice farmer in Thailand's drought-stricken province of Khon Kaen.

In 2011, his family voted for Ms Yingluck because they hoped her populist policies would make their lives better.

But their hopes faded, as the government ran out of money to fund its rice-pledging scheme and failed to pay what they had promised farmers nationwide.

Mr Onsa said: "We work and we want to get paid for it. Since we sold the rice grains to the government, we have been wondering when we will ever get the money.

"I have not been paid yet and I do not know what to do anymore. I will just keep working to pay off my debts."

The rice-pledging scheme gained the ruling Pheu Thai Party an electoral landslide.

It guaranteed farmers a fixed price of nearly US$500 per tonne of white rice -- that is around 40 per cent higher than the global market rate.

The subsidy programme, however, was followed by a huge loss, projected to exceed tens of millions of dollars, with a vast amount of grain left unsold and rotting in warehouses across the country.

Amid criticism, the government is looking to borrow some US$4.3 billion to fund the controversial scheme, although the move will further increase the already high public debt.

The delayed payment has also affected more than 1 million farmers, who can hardly make ends meet.

Somsak Kunngern, chairman of the Coordinating Committee of the Northeast Agricultural Council, said: "Farmers have not been paid for over four months. They are severely troubled by that. Rice is their main source of income and the delay affects their lives."

Mr Onsa said: "Life has become difficult. But it will still be ok as long as I have some rice to eat."

The interim government is believed to owe farmers like Mr Onsa and his family around US$4.3 billion.

If the money is not paid by the end of January, northeastern farmers said they will join forces with those in other regions to further pressure the administration.

That is most likely to cause a drop in Ms Yingluck's popularity.

Mr Somsak said: "The government's popularity in the north and northeast, which are their strongholds, will surely be affected. Farmers are already discussing about what to do with their votes if the government can't solve this problem before the election on February 2."

The network of farmers in the northeastern provinces has threatened to file both criminal and civil court cases against the caretaker government for failing to make payments on time.

They have also vowed to join the ongoing anti-government protests in the capital and to stage rallies in every province across Thailand until they get what they want.

With the volatile situation at present, one misstep from Ms Yingluck could mean a massive loss of supporters, and that is probably the last thing she wants to see before the general election takes place on February 2. 

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