Ministers responsible for the government's rice-pledging scheme have rushed to defend the programme, saying its losses would not reach 425 billion baht as estimated by MR Pridiyathorn Devakula.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said MR Pridiyathorn does not understand the accounting system of the programme.
He urged the former deputy prime minister and finance minister to be more cautious when talking about the loss figures.
"As an ex-finance minister, he should be more careful and really understands the scheme since its accounting system is different," he said yesterday.
Mr Kittiratt's comments came after MR Pridiyathorn said on Tuesday that even if the government could clear the stockpile by 2015, it would realise losses of at least 425 billion baht _ 205 billion baht from the 2011/12 harvest year and 220 billion from the 2012/13 harvest year.
MR Pridiyathorn also said that the losses would widen if the stockpile could not be sold by 2015.
Supa Piyajitti, deputy finance permanent secretary who chairs a sub-committee tasked with the rice-pledging scheme's accounting, said recently the losses might reach 400 billion baht for the 2011/12 and 2012/13 harvests.
The scheme is a major vote-winning populist policy initiated by the Yingluck Shinawatra's government.
The pledged prices are set at 15,000 a tonne of paddy, 40-50% higher than the going market price without any limitation to the pledged volume has led to strong criticism about the estimated hefty losses after the scheme has run for two harvest years.
To ease the pressure, the government slightly modified some conditions by maintaining the pledged prices for the current main crop running from this Oct 1 this year to Feb 28, 2014 but capped them at 350,000 baht per farmer household and lowering the pledged price to 13,000 baht a tonne for the second crop starting from March 1 and Sep 30, 2014 with 300,000 baht limitation for each farmer household.
Mr Kittiratt said MR Pridiyathorn's proposal that the government should pay only the differences between the subsidy price and the market price is a good idea and he is ready to consider it. However, he insisted that the government would keep running the programme.
Suphanburi Farmers' Council president Phrom Boonmachuay said the council will submit a letter to the prime minister through the Internal Trade Department, requesting an extension to the pledging period for the main crop to April 30 after some areas have been flooded.
Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, who is also Commerce Minister, said actual losses from the scheme as of January were about 100 billion baht.
The figure is based on the sold volume.
He said losses would reach 200 billion baht each harvest year only if the government sells the rice in its stocks at 30% of the pledged price, which he thinks is impossible.
The purchase price by the Chinese government will be concluded by December, he said.
Earlier, the government said during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang's visit that Beijing has agreed to buy one million tonnes of Thai rice every year through government-to-government contracts.
Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach said losses estimated by MR Pridiyathorn are unlikely because they could be only 160-170 billion baht for the 2012/13 harvest based on a 50% loss from the government's spending worth 345 billion baht for that year.
He believes the Commerce Ministry will be able to clear the stockpile if the released price is set relatively low.