Rough Cuts: It’s none other than the government, NFA

Last Thursday, August 2, the House Committee reviewing the proposed 2019 budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA) grilled to the max Secretary Emmanuel Pinol, especially on the issue of the continuous rise in the prices of rice even with the arrival of several hundred thousand tons of rice imported from Vietnam and Thailand.

Despite the probing questions of some congressmen the former journalist-turned politician-turned technocrat appeared ready to dazzle the lawmakers with his gift of tongue and posture of confidence that he was right in everything he said during the hearing.

Pinol may have succeeded in convincing the lawmakers in the legitimacy of his justifications. That is, that there is no rice shortage, that the imported grains cannot yet be distributed to the market reason why the high prices of the staple; that it is not the TRAIN law but the rising prices of oil in the global markets that is exacerbating the situation; that the government cannot afford to compete with private grains businessmen in buying the famers’ produce so the farmers prefer to sell their rice to the private traders and not to the National Food Authority (NFA).

Now we are at this again. Secretary Pinol’s blabbering notwithstanding, the more discerning people know that the major contributor to the muck that the rice supply and pricing are into is the very structure of the NFA.
Whoever sponsored the law creating the NFA must have some long-term sinister plan in their minds. Or, it is also possible that the lawmakers were manipulated by certain vested business interests out to have their way in making huge profit at the expense of the consuming public.

In a column we wrote several days back we manifested our take that the lawmakers must have to review the charter of the NFA. In that treatise we brought to the surface our cent’s worth of recommendation that it’s about time they (legislators) must decide once and for all whether the NFA must be a regulatory body, or a government grains business entity.

We are again taking the same issue up in this column. Why, because the NFA cannot and can never be an effective regulatory body if it also engages in competition with the businesses that it is supposed to regulate.

For example, how can the NFA compete with the private grains businessmen in buying the rice produced by the farmers if the maximum amount it can offer to buy palay is only P17 per kilo? How can the NFA be at par with the private businessmen if it does not have ready resources to advance to the farmers their financial requirements for fertilizers, pesticides, other farm inputs, and transport?

And if it is true as claimed by Secretary Pinol that his Department has existing credit assistance facilities to help the rice farmers, how fast can such assistance be given? Can it compare with the speed of the private grains traders in releasing the financial requirements of farmers for acquiring the farm inputs?

Secretary Pinol also told the committee that until now the rice import which has already reached the country’s ports has not been totally unloaded because of the bad weather during the past one month and a half already. Because of this unusual phenomenon not all the boats carrying the imported rice have docked at the pier.

Also, according to Pinol, and the articulate NFA spokesman Director Rex Estoperes, even if there are boats that are now docked at the pier, still the unloading of the rice cargo cannot easily be done. This is because, according to these officials, the grains are not put in containers and that the rains could destroy all the rice cargo even if only a sack of rice gets wet by the continuous rains once the vessel’s cargo hatch is opened.

So, there, has the NFA just been a simple regulator in the grains business of the country it would have been saved the trouble of dealing with other governments for the importation, hauling the rice import, storing the same, and distributing the cereal to the market.

The agency’s job would have been limited to ensuring that the government’s policy in the grains import is followed to the letter; that the private grains importers pay the correct customs duties and taxes; that the prices of rice are monitored within affordable level to the masses; and that any profiteering, hoarding or cheating on the rice quality can be stopped on tract and those who persist are punished according to the law.

But who would be interested to change the NFA charter? From the looks of it no one is willing to lose “opportunities” for big money — none from government officials, and none from the greedier grains traders.

We are just wondering when the President will do what he thinks is appropriate, for the rice hoarders and smugglers whose identities he claimed to know.

Posted in Opinion