With the Supreme Court for political post holders set to rule on the rubber sapling case, here’s a look back into the scandal.
In 2004, the controversial rubber sapling project was proposed by then deputy agriculture minister Newin Chidchob in a bid to expand rubber plantation fields by one million rai and help raise the income of rubber farmers.
The proposal underwent a review by a committee in which then deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak sat as chairman, and was endorsed by the Cabinet with an approved budget of 1.44 billion baht. Agriculture Department Director-General Chakan Sangraksawong was placed in charge of the project.
There were speculations that the rubber sapling project went to the Agriculture Department instead of the Rubber Estate Organization or the Office of the Rubber Replanting Aid Fund because the agency’s director-general was an ally of Newin.
The procurement of 90 million rubber saplings took place among complaints over collusion and bid rigging. The bid was finally won by Charoen Pokphand Seeds, or CPS, an affiliate of the CP group.
Yet, questions were raised among rubber traders about how CPS managed to secure the procurement contract, given that the company was new in the rubber industry and could not possibly have over 1,000 rai of rubber sapling fields, which is a plantation space that even a long-established company might not be able to achieve.
Despite being widely criticized, the 1.44 million-baht project was carried out. But just after the first batch of rubber saplings were distributed to farmers, problems sprouted because most of the young rubber trees failed to grow and eventually perished.
After receiving grievances from rubber farmers, ASTV Manager launched its own probe into documentation related to the project and its bidding process and went to inspect the plantation fields in both northern and northeastern provinces under the scheme.
ASTV Manager found that most rubber saplings distributed to farmers were no longer good for cultivation while others were defective or mixed with fake sprouts. And this has caused a huge financial damage to the farmers.
One of the reasons why the saplings were faulty is that CPS was not actually capable of producing as many rubber saplings as it promised and therefore, had to contact local producers to supply more saplings to the company.
Besides, as a new comer in the rubber industry, CPS had little experience in managing the business. As a result, the company failed to provide good-quality rubber saplings when the distribution was due.
Such irregularities prompted the now-defunct Assets Examination Committee to order a probe into the project and bring the case to the court.
Ruling on Rubber Sapling Case Postponed to Next Month
The Supreme Court for political post holders has decided to postpone its verdict on the rubber sapling case to September 21, following the absence of the former commerce minister, one of the 44 defendants. The court also issued an arrest warrant for him despite his e-mail saying that he is sick in the US.
Former commerce minister Adisai Bhodharamik sent a request to the Supreme Court for political post holders for a delay in the verdict on the rubber sapling case, claiming he has to be absent from today’s court session because of a planned treatment of his backbone ailment between July 15 and August 30 in the United States.
Adisai’s lawyer said he has received an e-mail from his client that he was granted permission by the tribunal in charge of the two and three-digit lottery to leave for the United States during this period.
However, the court stated Adisai had no urgent need to receive the treatment as he did not go abroad after his previous petition was granted due to the concern on the outbreak of the A/H1N1 Flu in the US and Mexico and he is still in the recovering stage from an operation last year.
The court, therefore, ordered his bail guarantor to be fined and an arrest wannt to be issued for him.
Forty-three of defendants in rubber sapling case today appeared before the court to hear its ruling, but Adisai’s no show resulted in the verdict reading to be postponed to September 21.
In conclusion to the order, the court said it hoped all 44 defendants will be present for the reading of the ruling next month.
One of the defendants in this case is Newin Chidchob, ruling coalition partner Bhum Jai Thai Party’s henchman. Newin said he has not kept contact with Adisai and does not know why he was not present for today’s ruling.
Newin affirmed he will not flee anywhere and will be present for the reading of the verdict next month. Two other former ministers, Sora-at Klinpratum and Warathep Ratanakorn, also affirmed their attendance at the reading of the verdict.
TAN, 17 August 2009