(Second of a series on the NFA)
The Thai Embassy has allegedly rebuffed a high-ranking National Food Authority official and two senior officials of Seabridge, a shipping firm, for their offer to handle the logistics requirements for the importation of rice from Thailand, The Manila Times learned on Monday.
The Thai officials were miffed at the way NFA wanted to “direct” the choice of the logistics company that would handle the rice imported from their country, the Times’ government source, who requested a anonymity, said.
Special Assistant to the NFA Administrator Ritchie Carpio allegedly talked to a member of the Thai delegation after they paid a courtesy call on NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino on March 31. While there or immediately after the courtesy call, Carpio reportedly approached one of the delegates and asked, “Can you get another logistics provider? We want you to get Seabridge,” and handed his calling card to the visitor, according to our source from the NFA.
A week later, Seabridge Maritime Management Corp. officials Greg Delmonte, managing director, and Roel Chiu, vice president for marketing, allegedly went to the commercial section of the Thai Embassy in Makati and met with a ranking officer.
Reached by phone, Chiu would not comment on their reported visit to the Thai Embassy but instead promised to call this writer back. No call from Chiu has come through as of this writing.
However, in a telephone conversation, Delmonte confirmed that he, together with Chiu, indeed went to the Thai Embassy only to offer their services. He emphatically denied that they introduced themselves to the Thai official as the company recommended by Carpio, Aquino’s special assistant.
“We went to the embassy just to offer our services and did not drop the name of Mr. Aquino,” Delmonte stressed.
Delmonte also denied that he said, “We are the company Mr. Carpio recommended to you to handle the logistics,” and that he quickly gave the NFA official’s card to the embassy official.
A source who had access to the conversation said the Thai official rebuffed the Seabridge officials and said in no uncertain terms that they could not accommodate the offer of Seabridge to handle the logistics requirements for the rice imports from Thailand. “We are sorry the embassy does not decide or pick the logistics handlers. It is our government that does through a competitive bidding. The winning bidder’s price is then included in our final cost of the exported rice,” the Thai official said.
The Thai Embassy however would neither confirm nor deny the preceding events, saying only in a text message to The Manila Times that, “We cannot confirm your questions because we are government.” At the same time, this writer received from a source familiar with the issue a photo of the business cards that the two Seabridge officials (Delmonte and Chiu) gave to the embassy official to introduce themselves (See photo).
Carpio, in a brief telephone interview, did not categorically deny or confirm whether he had approached a member of the Thai delegation on March 31 to recommend a shipper.
He, instead, went on a rather roundabout answer and said that, “Wala po kaming power mag-decide kung sino pipiliin na cargo handler. Kasi po hindi naman po kami nagde-decide kasi nga CIF (cost, insurance and freight) shipment.” (We have no power to decide on who the cargo handler should be. We don’t decide because they are CIF shipments.)
Carpio emphasized how he or the NFA normally handles all requests for assistance from importers. “Ganyan po ang sinasabi namin sa mga lumalapit sa amin.” (That’s what we normally tell those who would come to us for assistance.)
This writer wanted to secure from the NFA official a more categorical answer on whether or not there was truth to the allegation that he approached a member of the Thai delegation and endorsed Seabridge. He would no longer take this writer’s subsequent calls and text messages.
Commenting on the events that transpired, The Manila Times source said Carpio made the mistake of talking to the Thai delegate and asking him to consider his recommendee (Seabridge) to handle the logistics for rice imports from Thailand. Also, the two Seabridge officials should not have offered their company’s services as if it was a “done deal” by dropping the name of Ritchie Carpio, special assistant to NFA administrator.
He noted that the Thai government is under military rule and is very strict in its anti-corruption campaign.