ISLAMABAD: Amid an ongoing wheat flour crisis, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered a high-level inquiry on Wednesday to identify the reasons for wheat/flour shortage and fix responsibility for it.

The premier took notice of the wheat/flour controversy at a time when all the stakeholders are passing the responsibility to each other. The stakeholders include the provincial governments, the federal ministries of food security and commerce and the Economic Coor­dination Committee of the cabinet.

An official statement issued by the Prime Minister Secretariat said that the committee is tasked to identify and fix responsibility on any individual/officer/organisation, including any purported benefit to a private party, besides suggesting a way forward for future course of action.

The committee comprises Federal Investigation Authority Director General Wajid Zia as its convener and a representative of Intelligence Bureau not below BS-20/21 and director general of Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), Punjab, as its members. The convener may co-opt any other member(s). The inquiry report shall, inter alia, include identification of causes, circumstances leading to the wheat/flour crisis; assessment/projection of future stock leading to allowing export of wheat/wheat products and subsequent imposition of ban on exports; management of wheat stocks, within the federal government and the provinces, and coordination with the provinces; and any other issue, deemed appropriate, related to the wheat/flour related controversy.

The inquiry report is to be completed until Feb 6 and then submitted to the Prime Minister Office.

As the crisis deepens, the government has already allowed duty-free import of 300,000 tonnes of wheat to ease an upward trend in wheat and flour prices in the country.

As per government statistics, 4.2 million tonnes of wheat stocks are still available in the system. The quantity is enough for two months of domestic consumption — 2.1m tonnes per month — while the fresh crop will also start coming to the market by the middle of March.

Till recently, the flour price ranged between Rs800 and Rs1,200 per 20kg. However, it has witnessed an increase of up to Rs20per kg against the official rate of Rs1,350-1,400 per 40kg.

Officials say that wheat stocks at this stage last year were around 7m tonnes, compared to 4.2m tonnes this year, hence a psychological factor is at play.

At the time export of wheat was allowed last year, according to a food security official, the country had 10m tonnes of surplus wheat.

However, there are conflicting statistics over the stock and surplus in the country.

According to the official, the wheat reporting system in Pakistan is deficient which may be one of the reasons that played a role in creation of the current crisis.

The ministry of food suggested ban on wheat export last year in June but the decision was delayed until July for the reasons known to the Economic Coordination Committee.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2020