ISLAMABAD: Agriculturalists from the ruling party pre-emptively criticised the government over the “expected abolition of import duty on maize”, even though the finance ministry denied the impression that any such measure was on the cards.

The matter, which was brought before the National Assembly through a calling attention notice moved by PML-N MNAs Rana Mohammad Hayat Khan, Rasheed Ahmed Khan and Sheikh Fayyazuddin, was the only piece of business conducted by the house on Tuesday before it was adjourned amid an opposition boycott.

Even though Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Rana Mohammad Afzal Khan categorically claimed that no such move was being considered, the lawmaker from Rahim Yar Khan was adamant that the measure would soon be tabled before the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) for approval.

“To protect our farmers [Pakistan has imposed] an 11pc custom duty, 30pc regulatory duty and 5.5pc withholding tax on imported maize,” he explained, saying that poultry associations in the country were up in arms over the regulatory duty, since it was affecting their industry as the crop is widely used in chicken feed.

“Pakistan’s total maize production was 5.27 million tonnes in 2015, 6.13 million tonnes in 2016 and 5.28 million tonnes in 2017,” he said, adding that the government might consider doing this at a later stage.

“Our country’s farmers are at the edge of ruin and I pray we don’t add to their woes,” observed Mr Fayyazuddin.

“I want to ask the parliamentary secretary on whose behest is this being done? We know full well which lobby will benefit when you slit the throats of farmers,” he said, and revealed that strikes had been called in Faisalabad and Jhang, while farmers had also descended upon Bilawal House in Karachi to press for their rights.

“The government shouldn’t take any decision that will further decrease its popularity,” he concluded, pointedly.

But Rana Mohammad Afzal assured the PML-N lawmaker of this support, saying that even if the matter was laid before the ECC, the government’s representatives were there and would protect farmers’ interests at that level.

Abdul Sattar Bachani, the outspoken PPP lawmaker from Hyderabad, also echoed Mr Fayyazuddin’s concerns.

“The business lobby is hatching a conspiracy against agriculturalists... this is an agrarian country,” he said, adding that the subsidies that were being extended to businessmen from the poultry sector should be given to farmers instead.

Admitting that it was a serious issue, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq suggested that Mr Bachani move a joint resolution on the issue.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2017