Shehbaz rules out wheat import by private sector

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Lauds cabinet members for removing impediments in SDF projects

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday ruled out allowing the private sector to import wheat for now and “make fat profits”, given the extraordinary situation in the wake of devastating monsoon floods and the country’s foreign exchange woes.

“It is being said that the federal government is not allowing the private sector to import [wheat]. I will not allow this, I will not allow that the private sector procures it at a price of their choice,” the premier asserted while presiding over a National Flood Response and Coordination Centre meeting in Islamabad.

But saying so, he was quick to clarify that he was neither blaming nor casting aspersions on anyone.

“We are all honourable Pakistanis. All provincial governments are very honourable and they are doing a great job. But there is a system in place, then has been destruction and then there is the difficult matter of foreign exchange,” he said, adding that his team in the federal cabinet had worked hard to import the commodity and yet “save billions of rupees”.

“We even negotiated with the lowest bidder and taken discounts.” The premier said he was sure that even provincial governments had the capacity to handle the matter, “but this is an emergency”.

“And in this emergency, we cannot even afford to spend a dollar extra,” he said. He then went on to question: “But why should I allow the private sector [to import wheat]? Why should I allow the private sector at this point and time?”

The prime minister said the government would have been willing to give permission for wheat imports to the private sector under “normal circumstances” after consultation.

“But I will not allow the private sector to make fat profits, and then use Pakistan’s foreign exchange and then sell it to the consumer.

“This will not happen, and this shall not happen,” he asserted.

The premier also told the meeting that his cabinet had held a debate and discussion session to address wheat shortage.

He said his team was taking steps to plug the gap created due to the shortage in the last government’s tenure and also making arrangements to address the further anticipated shortage due to floods.

“Due to the floods, it is feared that we may not be able to reach our target and arrangements are being made to address that as well,” the premier said.

Shehbaz Sharif also sought details to shortage of wheat in Punjab after Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi’s letter requesting the premier to permit the procurement of one million metric tonnes of wheat on an emergency basis.

According to official sources, the Punjab Food Department had informed the chief minister about the rapid decrease in the stock of wheat in the province after which he wrote a letter to the prime minister.

The letter, sent to the prime minister, stated that the wheat stock was decreasing due to the subsidy on flour.

“If the process of procurement is not started now, the wheat supply in Punjab will further decrease till February, and the flour prices will also go up,” it added.

The letter also demanded that the federal government direct the Ministry of Food to release 300,000 metric tonnes of wheat on an emergency basis.

Meanwhile, chairing a review meeting to discuss the SDF projects facing delay, Shehbaz Sharif appreciated his cabinet members for removing the impediments in the development projects of the Saudi Development Fund within 48 hours.

The prime minister said the pace and dedication showed by the cabinet members and relevant officers should be followed in future as well.

The meeting was also attended by the delegation of Saudi Development Fund, SDF’s Asia Director Dr Saud A. Alshammari, currently visitng Pakistan. The meeting was told that the all departments concerned had fulfilled the requirements to remove obstacles in the projects.

The prime minister said the unnecessary delay in SDF funds had inflicted huge loss to the country which necessitated swift pace and dedication to overcome the deficiency.

 

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