PM Imran was 'under pressure' over allegations PTI members behind sugar crisis: Tareen

Updated February 25, 2020

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PTI Leader Jahangir Tareen speaking during DawnNewsTV's programme News Eye.
PTI Leader Jahangir Tareen speaking during DawnNewsTV's programme News Eye.

Prominent PTI leader and business magnate Jahangir Khan Tareen on Monday admitted Prime Minister Imran Khan was "under a lot of pressure" because of allegations that members from his party were involved in the sugar price hike across the country.

"There are people that keep insisting that it [sugar price hike] is because of me and a couple of other party members and that he [PM Imran] was not getting an inquiry done. So it is a welcome step and everything will come out in the open because of it," Tareen said.

"They should go to the farmers, ask them how much money they are getting, assess the situation," he added.

Tareen dismissed reports that he or other sugar mill owners were involved in hoarding the commodity that led to an exponential increase in prices all over the country.

"Sugar mill owners cannot afford to hoard sugar, they do not have the money to do it," Tareen said on Monday night, during an interview on DawnNewsTV's News Eye.

"This inquiry committee that the prime minister has set up is very welcome. It will be good, the committee can look at facts and decide what happened, once and for all," he added.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has constituted a three-member committee to probe the recent countrywide hike in sugar prices. According to a document issued by the Prime Minister's Office, the committee will comprise the Federal Investigation Agency's (FIA) director general, a representative of the Intelligence Bureau not below grade 20/21, and the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment director general.

The committee "will also identify and fix responsibility, if any, on any individual/officer/organisation, including any purported benefit to a private party, besides suggesting a way forward for future course of action."

When asked if the formation of the committee meant that Imran Khan was not trusting him anymore, Tareen said: "I don't think it's like that — but that is my own opinion — you should ask Imran Khan directly about this, because when he says it I'm sure you will trust [his word] more."

Moving on with the discussion, the show's host pointed out that the committee will also look into the matter and see if there are any cartels in the sugar sector or not.

"You keep quoting a report of Competition Commission of Pakistan to say that there are no mafias in the sugar sector. However, it is your own colleagues that do not have confidence in this report," Meher Bokhari said.

"There were no objections on this commission when it was tasked to looking into the matter. Once it said that there are no cartels in the sugar industry, objections were raised on it," Tareen said while adding that it is good that now an independent investigation is being done so that the case could rest once and for all.

"Another great thing that the prime minister has done is that he has directed the ministry of industry to calculate the cost of sugar production. It will calculate what the cost will be if sugarcane is bought at Rs190 and what it would be if it is bought at a different price. That will clear everything up," Tareen said while adding that a third party will be calculating this cost.

'Unfortunate that there are divisions in the party'

Answering a question regarding Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, Tareen said that while he took time to adjust to his role, "Buzdar is now starting to do well."

"Look, the prime minister decided that in Punjab, I will bring in someone new, someone who is not affiliated with any group, so that he is not under the influence of anyone,

"He [Buzdar] was new [on the job] and it took him a while to adjust [to his role]. Now I believe that Buzdar sahab's capacity has been built a lot more."

"He has admitted that it took him time to adjust." After much insistence for an answer on the host's part, Tareen admitted that he is now "satisfied with the party's performance in Punjab".

"It is unfortunate that there are divisions in the party — and this is a fact, there is no point in not admitting it — and these should not exist , but they do. Everyone is not on the same page.

"When there are divisions and factions anywhere, running a country, or even a company, becomes difficult," he said.

When asked if these divisions exist because everyone is pursuing "their own core agenda, and Imran Khan is not a disciplinarian," Tareen said that there "should be more discipline in the party".

"People should not be allowed to shoot off their mouths. And when there is discipline in the party,[the party's] work will improve a lot."

When asked what kind of discipline he is talking about, Tareen said "There heeds to be some kind of discipline. People should be told that everyone needs to be on one team and if you cannot be a team player, then you should not be in the team."

Earlier on the show, Tareen said that he and Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi had talked things out and now they "do not have any differences".

"Differences had come between us [in the past couple of years], but we go too far back — we used to play squash together as young boys — so we talked things out and we do not have any differences now," the PTI leader said.

However, the PTI leader did admit that there is an "anti-JKT (Jahangir Khan Tareen) camp" in the party.

"Look, what I do is that I do my work — my objective is to make Pakistan better — and then if something is not right somewhere, i point it out to the prime minister," Tareen said.

Answering a question regarding the need for Imran Khan to appoint a chief of staff, Tareen said: "A chief of staff is an essential hire for any prime minister. And if one is hired, [things] would be a lot better."

When asked if he would be interested in becoming the chief of staff if the position is offered to him, Tareen said: "I cannot be, due an an unfortunate 'travesty of justice' that occurred, I will not be able to hold that position.

‘Policy to revive cotton industry in the works’

President of Kisan Ittehad Khalid Khokhar, who joined the conversation via phone, alleged that Tareen and the government were vying for more sugarcane to be planted next year by announcing a support price for growing sugarcane and not cotton.

Responding to Khokhar, Tareen said: “Look, a land owner is an intelligent man. He is the one who decides what crops he wants to grow. Whatever crop he feels will yield more profit for him, that’s the one he is going to grow.

“If we want that less sugarcane should be grown in the country, the support price should be brought down. If we want more cotton to be grown a support price should be announced for it.

“Last year we sat in long meetings with the objective of coming up with a support price for cotton in order to convince growers to plant it,” Tareen said.

Regretting that nothing concrete was achieved through these meetings, Tareen said there was a reason behind the failures.

“They criticise me for not adding cotton to the first phase of the Agriculture Emergency Programme. It is because cotton is the hardest crop [to grow]. There is a lot of conflict surrounding it and we spent one year to resolve all of that conflict and tomorrow [today] we will be spending two hours with the prime minister and all the stakeholders to discuss these developments.”

When the host tried to allege that that there was conflict of interest as he was a sugar mill owner trying to reform the cotton industry, the PTI leader said: “Look, my perspective is simple. I compete with the market. Neither do I take any extra advantage nor do I like doing that. I believe in my own capabilities and know that I can compete.”

“I believe that cotton is a very important crop which has been ignored for the past 20 years and there has been a lot of loss because of this. The textile industry has slumped and we are importing cotton worth $2 billion — which is shameful.

“In this new policy we are presenting, we are reviving the cotton research organisation that was defunct. We are getting the private sector involved [...] because we believe that we should run things through consensus not only through orders.

“We are hoping that the prime minister will agree on this policy and all stakeholders will remain on the same page so that the industry could be revived.”