Press Release
February 23, 2010

Villar: Rice importation rules reek of corruption

Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manny Villar yesterday demanded that the government immediately scrap the new program of the National Food Authority (NFA) for the importation of rice.

"The new program, which will require rice importers to obtain so-called priority numbers to determine when they can import rice, opens the system to additional layers of corruption. Who prioritizes the priority numbers?" Villar said.

The NFA previously awarded allocations for importations on a first-come, first-served basis.

The NFA had reportedly revised the importation guidelines and posted them on its Web site only last Friday, Feb. 19. Importers in the Visayas who got wind of new rules rushed to the NFA provincial offices to line up for their priority numbers.

The NFA's offices were unusually open last weekend.

The new guidelines were not specified in the NFA's announcement ad that was put out last week.

"The NFA is taking advantage of the impending shortage of rice supply as a result of El Niño. Some people are out to make a killing at the expense of the people's misery. This is immoral and inhuman," Villar said.

Some importers who were able to get their priority numbers and were awarded import permits have reportedly started offering other importers and brokers the use of their permits for a fee. A news report quoted a source as saying the fee is P250 per bag of rice.

"What is the logic of this new rule for importing rice? Rather than simplifying the rule, the NFA has made it more complicated. And doing so at a time when the country will need to augment its rice inventory because of a projected shortage only fuels speculations that this is no more than a fund-raising scheme," Villar said.

The NP standard-bearer demanded the NFA to scrap its new guidelines for rice importation even as he renewed his call for a multi-sectoral group to be set up to oversee rice importations. Villar said Malacañang should invite members of the religious community to be part of the group to ensure transparent transactions.

Villar has earlier said that "tough negotiators" should sit in the government procurement team for imported rice as he warned that a mere difference in the contract price would "spell millions if not billions of pesos in savings."

"We need guardian angels in the biggest government transaction of the year. A mere $10 overprice per metric ton will already result in a 'tongpats' of P1 billion," Villar added.

Villar said the country's rice self-sufficiency goal had been pushed back several times due to the government's gross underspending for irrigation and postharvest facilities.

At the start of the decade, the government's economic managers had vowed that the country would be 100 percent rice self-sufficient by the end of the decade. Villar said neglect and lip service pushed back the target date to 2013.

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