Sultan M Hali
THE PTI Government, led by Imran Khan, took
the unprecedented but bold step of holding an
in-depth inquiry into the sugar/flour crises and made it public. The fact that members of the ruling dispensation were named in the scandal, did not discourage it from making the contents of the report public. Unfortunately, perhaps because of its poor handling of the media or the fact that PTI Government has plugged the gap of doling out financial packages to the Press and applied the brakes to pampering the media with foreign visits and other perks. Resultantly, the current government often gets bad press. In all fairness, the PTI Government, despite its faux pas of a serious nature, it is sincere in taking concrete steps for eliminating corruption and has combated the scourge of COVID-19 boldly. The exterior manoeuvres of Imran Khan led government have won it accolades internationally.
Yet in the current quagmire of sugar/flour crisis, where Imran Khan’s initiatives should have been appreciated, he is being made the butt of unwarranted criticism. Perhaps the political opposition fills in the void of greasing the palm of the media in firing broadsides at the PTI Government. The media did not even mention an iota of role of previous Governments, who kept the findings of reports secret because their own hands were caught in the till. Now, Omni group as well as the other key players of Sugar Industry have been caught red handed but there is nary a word on it. It is high time that media highlights the role of former governments in conspiracies to plunder the National Exchequer, rather than criticizing PM Imran Khan for the sake of criticism over petty issues like his visit to Nathiagali and posting outdated pictures to besmirch the Prime Minister.
Interestingly, the PML-N Senior Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had written a letter to the FIA Director General Wajid Zia seeking permission to appear before the Commission probing into the sugar price hike to present “useful information” in connection with the case. The former Prime Minister told Zia, who is heading the inquiry, that he and his fellow party man former Federal Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan could present useful information about the spike in sugar prices. Abbasi informed the Inquiry Committee that under Section 9 of Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry Act 2017, every citizen can provide information in a matter under-investigation. It may be recalled that in April 2020, the government went public with the findings of an inquiry committee tasked with probing into the sugar crisis in the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan had pledged not to spare those found guilty of creating and profiting off the sugar and wheat crises once he received the detailed forensic reports of the Commission’s preliminary findings on 25 April.
The Prime Minister had formed two high-powered Committees headed by the FIA Director General and comprising a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau and the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Establishment of Punjab to investigate the causes behind the wheat and sugar crises and price hike of the two commodities. In its 32-page report, the Committee on sugar price hike termed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government’s decision to allow export of sugar unjustified as it caused a 30% increase in its price. “The exporters of sugar gained benefit in two ways: first they were able to gain subsidy and secondly, they made profit from the increasing sugar prices in the local market,” according to the Inquiry Committee, led by Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)
The committee report revealed that PTI’s former Secretary General Jahangir Khan Tareen and Federal Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar were among the main beneficiaries. Both stalwarts of the PTI got away with Rs1.03 billion subsidy on the export of sugar, paid out from the taxpayers’ money, which was equal to 41% of the total subsidy the government of Punjab paid to sugar barons, according to the report. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that the decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and the current Federal Cabinet led to a hike in prices of sugar across the country earlier this year. The PML-N leader said that the Prime Minister should ask his cabinet regarding the increase in rates of sugar, adding that the green signal to export sugar was given despite no surplus amount of the product in the country. Abbasi said that for sixteen months the export of sugar continued but the government did not take any notice of it.
Acting holier than the Pope himself, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who has been named as facilitator in the sugar/flour crisis, now opines that there should be a tax on imports to deter the import of sugar. Drawing the wrong conclusions and perhaps to divert attention from his own misdeeds, Abbasi says: “The situation proves that the Prime Minister is corrupt.” Abbasi said that during the PML-N tenure, the government gave a subsidy of more than Rs 20 billion for sugar, which is why the prices did not rise even by a penny. Abbasi said that the Commission should summon Prime Minister Imran Khan and the head of the ECC if it wanted to get to the bottom of the hike in sugar crisis. Hopefully the media will fulfil its responsibility of being a pillar of the state rather than sullying the current government and ignoring dubious role of previous governments.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Sultan M Hali