In the volatile world of today's commodities market, timing is everything. Expecially so for a government department needing to strike a new deal for rice to feed more than 100,000 people in its care for the next three years. That was the situation facing the Correctional Services Department early this year with its previous three-year contract running out and rice prices soaring. Government tender records show that eventually it stuck a deal with food supplier Dah Chong Hong for 5,970 tonnes of Thai rice for HK$29,969,400, with deliveries to start in April. That works out at about US$643 a tonne - equivalent to the market price in January. But it is about HK$4.7 million more than HK$23.251,148 paid to keep the prisoners in rice for the previous three years. But by the time supplies began in April the market price had soared to US$1,104 a tonne, and this month was still running at US$900. Whether the department got a good deal depends on how prices move in future and there is a long way to go to the end of the contract. Leading rice trader Anthony Lam said nobody knew early in the year what the price would be in April, as international commodity prices had increased sharply in first half of this year. 'The supplier also bore a high risk as the price of rice was shooting up while the deal was being made,' said Mr Lam, regional general manger of Hong Kong's largest rice wholesaler, Golden Resources Group. He said the international price of Thai rice reached a record high of about US$1,500 a tonne in May, dropping to about US$900 for October. Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said buying rice involved correctional officers' professional assessment and it was difficult to assess whether it was a good deal and whether international food prices would keep increasing. A spokeswoman for the Logistics Department said the government held an open tender every three years for a supply of rice to prisoners in Hong Kong.