CABINET Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. on Tuesday announced a shift in government policy on rice importation after the National Food Authority (NFA) Council allowed private traders to import rice through foreign governments to increase buffer stocks ahead of the lean months.
In a news conference, Evasco said the NFA will push through with rice importation through the government-to-private sector or G2P scheme as it is “more competitive, least corrupt, and more transparent” than the government-to-government or G2G scheme earlier pushed by NFA chief Jason Aquino.
Evasco and Aquino had clashed over conflicting policies on rice importation. Aquino bats for G2G importation while Evasco wants it done through private rice traders.
Evasco said Aquino, during Monday’s NFA Council meeting, expressed support for the council’s decision.
“They’re not supposed to contradict the position of the NFA Council and I’m happy to let you know the administrator of the NFA was present during the NFA Council meeting yesterday…He (Aquino) was supportive,” Evasco said.
But Evasco insisted that Aquino’s proposed G2G scheme to import rice had been used for corrupt activities.
“Unfortunately, this G2G has been abused. This has been used for corrupt practices because there is no bidding involved here. It is only entered through a negotiated contract between the Philippines and supplying country. Once you pay the money to the supplying country, it’s just like money thrown outside,” he said.
The Cabinet secretary said G2G importation could still be done in the future but G2P was the preferred mode, to rid the NFA of corruption.
Private suppliers from participating countries may now be allowed to join the bidding, as provided by the Government Procurement Reform Act, instead of limiting the bidders to government counterparts.
“While the G2G is exempt from the Government Procurement Reform Act, the G2P is not,” Evasco said.
He said the NFA Council was awaiting the recommendation of the National Food Security Committee on how much rice should be imported out of the limit of 250,000 metric tons under a standby authority granted to the grains authority. The panel will meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.
The NFA, upon the order of the Legislative-Executive Advisory Council, is mandated to maintain a rice buffer good for 15 days at any given time, and for 30 days at the onset of the lean months, the period of low or zero harvest.
The country’s daily rice consumption is at 32,720 metric tons or 654,600 bags.
During Monday’s meeting, the NFA Council also approved the importation of 805,000 metric tons of rice under the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) scheme this year. The MAV refers to the volume of rice that could be imported at reduced tariffs.
The council likewise directed the NFA management to amend the MAV guidelines to require participating traders to allocate 25 to 30 percent of their quotas to cheaper rice or “25 percent brokens.”
“This way, we are assured that cheap rice will be made available in the local market. This policy shift is more consistent with the President’s pro-poor policy,” Evasco said.
Asked if the NFA Council’s decision was a vindication of a Malacañang undersecretary who was earlier fired by the President for pushing for rice imports, Evasco said: “Well to some extent, it admits that there is really a need for us to import.”
Evasco clarified that the NFA decision did not contradict the President’s earlier statement to defer rice imports.
“This is unanimous because the President during the last Cabinet meeting had been given the opportunity to listen to the position of the NFA Council, where there is really a need for us to import. That’s why the President said, since this time, NFA will no longer have the monopoly of importing rice. So we should open importation to (the) private sector,” he said.
With report from JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ