ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday declared that the government would provide relief to the masses by reducing prices of essential commodities and taking stern action against hoarders.

In a tweet, the prime minister said that the federal cabinet in its meeting on Tuesday would announce some drastic measures to give relief to the inflation-hit people.

According to media reports, the government is going to establish 50,000 shops in the country where essential food items will be available at subsidised rates.

Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said that prices of daily use items would drop in the current month.

Prime Minister Khan said: “I understand the difficulties ordinary people [including] salaried class are confronting and have decided, come what may, my govt will be announcing various measures that will be taken to reduce prices of basic food items for the common man in cabinet on Tuesday.”

PM says in-depth probe into increase in prices of wheat flour, sugar have begun

In another tweet, he said all the relevant government agencies had begun an in-depth probe into the hike in flour and sugar prices.

He held out the assurance that those found involved in artificial price hike would be dealt with iron hands. “The nation should rest assured that all those responsible will be held accountable and penalised.”

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar said in a TV programme that it had come into the knowledge of the government that prices at mills’ levels were not high but it was because of the “middleman” that the prices of consumer items had significantly increased. “We have decided to take stern action against the middleman to keep prices stable,” he added.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics last week reported that the inflation rate had risen to 14.6 per cent in January from 12.6 per cent in the previous month, scaling the highest level in 12 years. However, in a recent cabinet meeting, the prime minister was reportedly informed that inflation had gone up to 16pc.

People across the country are making hue and cry over the unusual price hike that has marred their domestic budget. They say that prices of wheat and flour, pulses, sugar, edible oil, tea, rice, meat, vegetables and fruits had increased to such an extent that these commodities were fast going beyond the reach of common man.

It has been learnt that Prime Minister Imran on Saturday directed members of his economic team to take steps to bring down the prices of basic food commodities — especially wheat, wheat flour, sugar, rice and pulses — within a fortnight.

One of the participants of a meeting between the PM and his economic team quoted Mr Khan as saying that if a government could not provide relief and basic commodities to the masses, it had no right to stay in power.

In the meeting at the premier’s Banigala residence , the participants -- including Adviser to the PM on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh, federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar, Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Haider Zaidi, Special Assistant to the PM (SAPM) on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Dr Sania Nishtar, SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Development Zulfi Bukhari, senior PTI leaders Jahangir Tareen and Shahbaz Gill and the chairman of the Utility Stores Corporation -- reviewed the demand and supply position of basic food items, sources said.

The sources said that the prime minister categorically told his economic team that he wanted to see the prices of essential commodities coming down quickly and that he wanted results in just 15 days.

Prime Minister Khan was of the opinion that inflation was the result of “corruption and plundering” of the previous governments. The premier lauded the performance of the Utility Stores Corporation and said it had done a remarkable job during the flour crisis as its sales had increased by 800 per cent.

He underlined the need for improving the corporation’s infrastructure and assured it of provision of more funds to ensure availability of basic food items at subsidised rates.

Meanwhile, SAPM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has said that the government is aware that a “nexus of corrupt people tried to create an artificial shortage” of flour and sugar in the country.

Prime Minister Khan has also called a meeting of senior leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party on Monday (today] in which strategies will be devised to control prices and deal with disgruntled government allies.

“The prime minister has called a meeting tomorrow on prices,” Asad Umar told Dawn.

Asked what was in the mind of the prime minister to reduce pries of essential items, he said that Mr Khan would share it with party leaders in the meeting.

It has been learnt that the government’s team and Pakistan Muslim League-Q leaders will also meet on Monday (today) to resolve differences between the two sides.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2020