Ex-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has told a court that the controversial rice subsidies helped boost the rural economy. She denies charges of failing to stem losses from the multibillion-dollar program.
Shinawatra, whose government was in power from August 2011 until a military coup in May 2014, told a criminal court in Bangkok Friday that the subsidy scheme forecast a price for rice that would allow farmers to earn the equivalent of 300 baht ($8.50; 7.70 euros) per day - the current minimum wage.
In an appearance two days before a nationwide referendum on the new military-scripted constitution, she said that successive Thai governments, both civilian and military, had long paid subsidies to farmers.
"This is not a new policy, it has been used for 30 years," Shinawatra told the court.
The ousted former premier is facing trial for alleged criminal negligence over her role in managing the rice program, which the prosecution says was rife with corruption. She could face up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.
Boosted rural support
The subsidy was part of a flagship election manifesto that helped sweep her to office but also led to months of crippling street protests in 2014 that eventually led to the country's 12th military takeover.
The former prime minister told judges that the rice policy was forecast to "increase people's income and the price of rice for farmers," adding that the subsidy - which raised prices by 40-50 percent - did not distort the market.
She said farmers had been able to resolve their chronic indebtedness as a result of the scheme.
She warned the court that a conviction would set a precedent for future civilian administrations who might put off policy decisions for fear of prosecution.
Rice scheme backfired
The Bangkok Post described how the scheme was devised by Yingluck's brother Thaksin - another former Thai prime minister who was toppled in a military coup in 2006. The program's main objective was to attempt to push up export prices. But the plans backfired after the world rice market experienced an oversupply.
Its failure saw Thailand lose its crown as the world's number one rice exporter to India.
The military government said the rice scheme cost the state 286 billion baht ($8.2 billion; 7.4 billion euros) and left the country with a stockpile of around 18 million tones of rice.
Officials said Monday they would also lodge a civil damages case against Shinawatra and some of her former ministers.
Hundreds of supporters, many critical of junta rule, remained outside the courthouse Friday as she gave evidence.
Shinawatra also urged Thais to vote in Sunday's referendum on the new constitution, the first test of public opinion on army rule since it seized power.
mm/nm (AFP, Reuters)