Wheat smuggling probes’ outcome ‘inconclusive’

Updated February 18, 2020

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The de­­part­­mental committees constitu­ted to probe exports of wheat and wheat flour during ban period largely remains inconclusive while the Pakis­tan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) is standing by its export figures. — AFP/File
The de­­part­­mental committees constitu­ted to probe exports of wheat and wheat flour during ban period largely remains inconclusive while the Pakis­tan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) is standing by its export figures. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The de­­part­­mental committees constitu­ted to probe exports of wheat and wheat flour during ban period largely remains inconclusive while the Pakis­tan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) is standing by its export figures.

The PBS reported figures received from the Pakistan Revenue Automation Limi­ted (PRAL), a subsidiary of the Federal Board of Reve­nue (FBR), which showed exports of wheat and wheat flour at 3,947 and 26,206 metric tonnes, respectively between Aug-Oct 31, 2019.

The FBR and its field formation are busy in announcing committees. However, the same have so far failed to produce the desired re­­sults and identify the Cus­toms officers involved in the scam. As the scam was detected on the report of customs intelligence, seven officers of Peshawar and Quetta Collec­torates were transferred.

The Customs Intelligence Department has already conveyed to the government that 505 containers were cleared at Torkham Border without filing of goods declaration and payment of duty and taxes.

“I don’t want any media reporting on the issue as lot of damage has already been done to the department”, one senior Customs officer told Dawn.

It clearly show that instead to tracing Customs officers involved in the scam, the issue was turned into an integrity issue of Customs Department.

The figures on clearance of containers without duty and taxes were challenged by Chief Collector North Dr Asif Jah. “I am still doing my investigation,” he told Dawn, adding that he has already reconciled 300 containers.

Meanwhile, an official source said that to resolve the issue, another committee has been constituted by the FBR comprising two newly appointed collectors and Director Intelligence to jointly see veracity of suspected containers. The committee is tasked to see the reports of Customs Intelli­gence and Chief Collector regarding the suspected containers,” the source said.

On the other hand, another committee led by Chief Collector Appraise­ment (Central Region) Dr Fareed Iqbal has also ruled out export of wheat and wheat flour from Chaman Customs Station.

“No corroborative evidence has surfaced during the fact finding inquiry that any unauthorised clearances of wheat and wheat products has taken place from Chaman border after imposition of ban on exports of wheat and wheat flour,” reads the report.

The report also talked about inadequate facilities and infrastructure and also did not rule out chances of misdeclaration.

According to the source, Prime Minister’s Secre­tariat is not happy with the outcome of these reports and has now directed the Fede­ral Investigation Agency (FIA) to conduct a probe.

“We are providing data and other facilities to FIA to probe the issue,” a senior Customs officer confirmed to Dawn.

The FIA has already compiled one report but the same was returned with further direction to probe the issue thoroughly. “We will take action against the Customs officers if found involved,” the officer said.

PM review prices

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday also held a meeting to review prices of essential commodities inclu­ding wheat. During the meeting, Khyber Pakh­tun­khwa and Punjab governments were asked to review proposals to bring down prices of wheat flour.

It was decided to double the wheat procurement target this year in order to bring stability in the commodity’s price.

While reviewing prices of essential commodities, the premier asked to further accelerate administrative action against the hoarding of essential commodities. It was decided to take all necessary steps to curb smuggling of wheat, onion, tomato and other items from the eastern and western borders of the country.

An official statement issued after the meeting said that various options were discussed at length to stabilise and bring down the prices of items such as wheat flour, sugar, potato, tomato, onion, ghee and pulses.

It was decided that the Sugar Advisory Board, through third party evaluation, will determine the sweetner’s price so that a reasonable rate for the commodity could fixed at the official level.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020