Government to lose P2B in rice importation anomaly

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The government stands to lose at least P2 billion by the end of the year from a flawed and graft-prone rice importation scheme being implemented by the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the National Food Authority (NFA), one of the country’s biggest consumer cooperatives warned.

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Ang Gawad Pinoy Consumers Cooperative head lawyer Tonike Padilla revealed that if the NFA proceeds with the planned importation of another 700,000 metric tons (MT) in November to address a purported looming rice shortage, the P457 million already allegedly lost due to overpriced imported rice could easily balloon to P2 billion before the year ends.

Padilla concurred with earlier reports that at least P457 million in public funds had been lost to corruption in relation to the importation of rice from Vietnam last April.

“In NFA’s April importation alone, the prevailing price per metric ton of rice in Vietnam ranged from $360 to $365 per MT. But the government, using public funds, paid an overpriced $459.75 per MT for the transaction,” Padilla said.

“For this April G2G [government to government]transaction alone, $10,439,275 or P457 million . . . were lost to corruption. This is a killing. Even more than the annual PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] of six congressmen combined,” he pointed out.

The lawyer stressed that the cited scheme is the reason why the DA and the NFA has established a government monopoly in the importation of rice. The anomalies are being committed in the guise of the country’s quest for rice self-sufficiency, Padilla said.

“The President [Benigno Aquino 3rd] has obviously been fed with erroneous data. We did not import 187,000 MT of rice in 2013, as he claimed in his July SONA [State of the Nation Address]. We imported more—a total of P205,700 MT as of April of this year,” the lawyer claimed.

“The difference,” Padilla stressed, “is that all importations were done by the government, nearly doubling its previous year’s imports of 120,000 MT.”

“This is the reason why the DA and NFA has overzealously insisted and pushed the private sector out of the international rice trading business,” he underlined.

A check of the Oryza Global Rice price for April confirms that the NFA’s acquisition was overpriced by at least $50 or about P2,150 per MT.

“P457 million could have funded the construction of irrigation systems for 3,778 hectares of land, that’s a land area almost twice the size of Makati City, large enough to produce 30,224 MT of rice a year or P705.2 million worth of rice at 23,333.57 per MT. Multiply these figures by 450 percent should the November G2G importation proceed and P2 billion shall have been lost to corruption,” alleged the lawyer.

Citing the National Economic Development Authority’s opinion, Padilla argued that the DA and NFA had unduly monopolized rice importation in the country, contrary to their mandates.

“Even the NEDA believes that the NFA’s role should be limited to increasing domestic procurement of palay and reducing importation for buffer stocking, as well as encouraging the private sector’s primary role in rice importation,” he stressed.

“During the first half of this year alone, the NFA paid P1.7 Billion in duties and taxes for its imports—an amount that should have otherwise been paid by the private sector and received as revenues for the government had the DA-NFA not insisted on its monopolistic G2G scheme,” he further said.

Meanwhile, NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag assured the public that rice farmers in the Visayas and Mindanao have begun harvesting their crops, boosting the country’s stocks.

This year’s production may reach 18.45 million MT, lower than the 20.4 million MT target set by the National Rice Program.

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