MANILA – The National Food Authority’s (NFA) top policy-making body has introduced sweeping changes to the country’s rice importation rules in a bid to eradicate corruption in the system and encourage small-time players to import rice.
Among the council's decisions was to remove the Subic Bay Freeport Zone as a port of entry for government-to-private imports, and to include Zamboanga City as a port of entry.
The NFA Council earlier adopted the government-to-private (G2P) mode in importing rice, doing away with government-to-government importation in a bid to reduce corruption following reports of cartel operations.
Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, who announced the policy changes in a news briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday, however, did not explain why Subic was banned as an entry port for rice imports. He did not take questions from the media.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier ordered to halt private rice imports during the harvest season to protect local farmers. The NFA Council’s decision, however, suggests that government officials have prevailed upon the President amid the lean season as importation would again be allowed.
“With these changes being in place, the Council considered that it is being faithful to its foremost duty, that amid the lean season, it is able to secure fair pricing and affordable yet quality rice for every Filipino household,” Evasco said.
The council approved the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice under the G2P mode, but set guidelines to ensure competition and avoid oversupply during the harvest season, which could hurt local farmers.
At least 30 percent of the imports should arrive between August and September, and the rest should arrive between December 2017 and February 2018, Evasco said.
The official said the country’s domestic rice index situation as of June 7, 2017 showed that household and commercial stocks were in “comfortable status,” with household stocks at 44 days worth and commercial stocks at 28 days.
The council decided to split the importation of the total volume of 250,000 metric tons of rice to eight to 10 lots, at a minimum 25,000 metric tons and a maximum of 50,000 metric tons per lot.
The council also ordered the NFA administration to release import permits within a day after a trader completes the submission of required documents.
To encourage smaller players to participate in bidding, the council also reduced the payment term from 365 days to 15 days, “since only big time players can afford to wait for 365 days.”
In an apparent bid to prevent corruption, the council also decided to directly appoint members of the Bids and Awards Committee.
Suppliers with pending liabilities before 2017, who were previously disqualified, will be allowed to participate in the bidding.
“After all, they still enjoy the presumption of innocence, but the NFA should continue to demand collection and file legal cases as appropriate,” Evasco said.