‘Constructive abolition’

THE plan to diminish the functions of the National Food Authority (NFA) is ill-advised.

NFA will be dealt a death blow when some Cabinet wizards wield the magic stick and reduce the agency to a simple palay buyer that has nothing to do with food security and the stabilization of rice prices.

Budget Secretary Butch Abad has been trying to deliver NFA to the gallows for several months and his latest statement that the agency would be reorganized fits snugly into the conditionality imposed by the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), both of which had been pressuring government to let the private sector control the rice trade and let the market decide prices.

WB and ADB provided the billions for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of Dinky Soliman’s Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) and in no time at all, DSWD becomes the funnel for subsidized rice for the poorest of the urban poor.

Critics are not taking the Abad plan sitting down, arguing that the mandate of NFA is to buy 10 percent of the annual palay output and thus stem price manipulation and act as market whip, shunting off stocks where artificial shortages materialize to punish speculators and distributing rice when calamities come, and they do come in torrents in this benighted land.

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano has a point in asking whether it was the mandate of NFA that was wrong or the people who manned the ramparts of the agency, principally the NFA Council headed by the secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), along the chief of the finance department, Department of Trade and even Land Bank.

To Mariano, NFA has been the favorite whipping boy of economic managers who had sat at the NFA Council, including Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, a known champion of privatization and full trade liberalization. NFA Council determines the policy while an interagency working group is tasked to find out the import volumes the country needs.

The issue, however, is not merely the reorganization or the downgrading of the NFA into a public grains buyer but the responsibility for the financial hemorrhage at the agency.

Former agriculture chief and now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap tells the public not to look his way since he was not in charge of day-to-day operations at NFA but some birds at the DA tell us this was not the case.

Nothing happened at NFA without his knowledge since everything had to pass through him. Yap also headed the NFA before some issues swamped him to quit, only to be resurrected as DA secretary in no time at all.

Yet, Yap and Rep. Dakila Cua of Quirino are the authors of measures that would emasculate NFA and transform it into a mere trading outpost in the outback.

Mariano and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) do not buy the rationalization scheme as anything brilliant.

He argues that the proposals seek merely to wipe the NFA’s slate clean and transfer the P177 billion debt to the national government, which means you and me and every taxpayer in town would have to cough up cash to pay for the burden we did not create.

Mariano deems this ploy completely out of sync with transparency and the righteous path that President Aquino wants to construct.

First, there is no attempt to really wipe the slate by determining who were responsible for the mismanagement, the overimportation and the beneficiaries of commissions regularly paid out by foreign traders.

Second, you have to pass a law that would repeal Presidential Decree No. 4 (PD 4) and three other laws that amended the NFA Charter before even thinking of downsizing the staff and transferring the rice distribution function to the DSWD and the discussions for this would stretch on due to the expected protests.

Third, those who want to emasculate NFA might be the ones who fear a comprehensive review of the agency’s records and the comparison of its purchase purchases to the prevailing prices in the world market, which would easily show the glaring discrepancy. -Joel Paredes

Fourth, the constructive abolition of the NFA would free the pirates and privateers who earned more than their keep from facing the dock.

Fifth and last, giving the private sector a carte blance to control importations and local trade would eliminate the disciplining role of the NFA and lead to a regime of high prices.

Government should also understand that one reason this country has been a laggard is that it had bowed down to all the wishes of the WB and the IMF and had not given serious attention to one little thing— the national interest.-Joel Paredes

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