Officials investigate Chiayi rice hoarding allegations

`VERBAL' REFUSAL: The farmers' association chief said he did not 'really' intend to reject government demands that the association's rice be released at lower prices


Sun, Nov 11, 2007 - Page 4

Chiayi prosecutors and Council of Agriculture (COA) officials have launched a probe into alleged rice hoarding by a farmers association.

Wang Hui-hsing (王輝興), a prosecutor in charge of the case with the Chiayi Prosecutor's Office, said the probe was launched after the office received a complaint a few days ago that state-owned rice stockpiles at the farmers' association in Chiayi County's Taipao City (太保市) appeared to have been reduced, leading to the suspicion that stocks may have been wrongfully removed and hoarded elsewhere.

Prosecutors and officials with the COA's Agriculture and Food Agency visited seven warehouses where state-owned rice stocks are stored by the local farmers' association, Wang said. No deliberate misrepresentation was discovered in the volume of rice stockpiles, although the quality had yet to be ascertained, Wang said.

Should irregularities or wrongdoing be revealed, the relevant farmer association officials would be indicted on charges of breach of trust and illegal possession of state foodstuff, Wang said.

The inspection was conducted in response to a news report about the group's "refusal" to cooperate in a government program to release stockpiles to help stabilize rice prices.

Huang Jong-li (黃榮利), chief delegate of the Taipao City's farmers association, claimed that his "verbal" refusal to fall in line with the government policy was out of concern for the farmers' interests.

Local farmers were stricken and dissatisfied after learning of the government's demand that they release their high-end spring harvest at lower prices, Huang said. They fear they will fall prey to the government's price stabilization program simply because of the recent spate of food price hikes, he said.

Huang argued that the farmers association is not in a position to turn down the government's request and claimed that he did not "really" intend to reject its demand.

Chang Hua-kuang (張花冠), a Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker from Chiayi County, voiced support for Huang and said the government must not repeatedly turn a blind eye to farmers' interests as "they have sacrificed too much for the country in the past decades."