Beyond resolve of Cabinet


THE Federal Cabinet, which met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday, discussed threadbare some of the important issues directly related to the masses like availability and pricing of sugar and wheat flour, online teaching system and Covid-19 situation. The meeting expressed its resolve to safeguard interests of the consumers as far as prices and supply of wheat and sugar are concerned and the Prime Minister took pride in pursuing an appropriate strategy to deal with the situation arising out of spread of Coronavirus, adding that he would not have approved the lockdown had provinces approached him for the purpose.
It is for umpteen times that the cabinet has taken stock of rising prices and shortage of sugar and wheat flour, which is reflective of the Government’s concern over difficulties and woes of the people. According to Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz, the cabinet welcomed verdict of Islamabad High Court on the issue of sugar and reiterated its resolve to take perpetrators to task who made undue profit out of the sugar crisis. There is no doubt that the Government has initiated actions on multiple fronts and something concrete might emerge at the end of the day but so far the situation has not changed for the end consumer due to inability of the administrative machinery to comprehend the situation and take measures to provide relief to the consumers. If Islamabad High Court can intervene and issue and order for reduction of price of sugar in the open market then why the Government confined itself to mere issuance of statements and discussion of the issue in high level meetings. Even after passage of weeks since the Sugar Commission presented its final report and recommendations, the cabinet was hoping that the pricing issue would be streamlined in three months. This effectively means the consumers would continue to pay more for the commodity at least for the next three months and no one knows for sure whether the prices would come down or not. In fact, the price control mechanism is not delivering and the strategy of the Government in this regard needs a thorough review to pinpoint flaws and make it responsive to the aspirations of the people.
The pattern of flour shortage and its rising prices also sends a dismal signal to the people as shortages have occurred at the start of the harvesting and procurement season when the country has 25 million tons of wheat against the overall requirements of 27 million tons. The prices are not coming down despite permission granted by the Government for import of the wheat for which duties and taxes have also been abolished. There are reasons to believe that the crisis has much to do with rampant smuggling and hoarding that goes on unchecked despite repeated announcements of the authorities concerned to deal with the menace firmly. Smuggling of wheat and wheat flour to Afghanistan and Central Asia is a known phenomenon and the successive governments somewhat ignored the issue as the country was surplus in the commodity. However, at a time when the country itself is preparing to import wheat, it is strange that the smuggling continues, apparently with the connivance of the departments and officials concerned. The issue can be addressed if those assigned with the task of checking smuggling are held accountable and penal action is initiated against them. As for online teaching in the backdrop of Covid-19, it has become a need of the hour and steps should be taken for boosting Internet connectivity and its availability in far-flung areas. At the moment, strength of the signals is a serious problem even in cities like Islamabad and Rawalpindi and one can imagine the situation in the rest of the country especially rural areas. PTCL and cellular companies should be encouraged and facilitated to upgrade and improve their network as there seems to be no escape from online education due to uncertainty created by the virus. There is immeasurable loss due to extended closure of educational institutions and work needs to be initiated by federal and provincial governments on a war footing to offset the impact of Coronavirus on our education system.