Body probing wheat, sugar crises turned into commission

Published March 11, 2020
Interior secretary briefs cabinet on the progress made so far in the probe. — Reuters/File
Interior secretary briefs cabinet on the progress made so far in the probe. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday expanded the scope of work of an inquiry committee formed to unearth the root cause of the recent sugar and wheat crises in the country and turned it into a high-powered commission with the task of finalising its report in one week.

A meeting of the cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to form a yearly calendar for issuance of utility bills so that consumers of electricity and gas could not receive bills on unexpected dates.

The cabinet expressed satisfaction over the arrangements made so far by the health department to deal with novel coronavirus, but issued directives to make these measures more foolproof.

The meeting approved a third report on restructuring of government departments and reforms under which 46 state entities would be privatised.

“The cabinet approved conversion of an inquiry committee on sugar and wheat scandal into a high-powered commission to fix responsibilities and go into the root cause of sugar and wheat crisis in the country. The commission has been tasked with completing its report in one week,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said in a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

PM directs health ministry to take further steps to control spread of coronavirus

She added that the interior secretary briefed the cabinet on the progress made so far by the inquiry committee on sugar and wheat crisis headed by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Wajid Zia and said the forensic audit of information and accounts so far received and checked by the committee was required.

The SAPM said the committee had been given special powers by turning it into a high-level commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017. The commission headed by Wajid Zia comprises the director general anti-corruption and a senior official of the Intelligence Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, State Bank of Pakistan and the Federal Board of Revenue.

Interestingly, the cabinet had decided to form the inquiry committee in the first week of February and it was directed to complete its report in two weeks. The FIA had presented its report in a cabinet meeting on Feb 11, but it was rejected by the prime minister who gave the committee 20 more questions and asked it to make a comprehensive report by covering all aspects.

“The FIA has been directed to submit an independent report to the cabinet in the first week of March,” Dr Awan had said.

On Tuesday, she said: “The prime minister directed the commission to complete the report as soon as possible and take all aspects of the sugar crisis under consideration so that the facts can come to the fore.”

She said the prime minister also directed that the performance of the Competition Commission of Pakistan be reviewed. “The prime minister was of the view the basic objective of preparing the report to address those issues forever which always create crisis of essential items in the country,” she said.

Calendar of utility bills

In view of the problems being faced by the people receiving utility bills on unexpected dates, the prime minister directed the authorities concerned to prepare a calendar for the whole year so that people could know on which date they would receive gas and electricity bills.

The cabinet also underlined the need for upgrading the prevailing system of issuance of power, gas and other utility bills by embracing digital technologies. It was told that the bills would soon be disbursed through online and digital platforms like mobile phone apps and e-mail to ensure their timely delivery.

According to Dr Awan, the prime minister told the meeting that the government was saddled with the energy crisis due to costly agreements signed by the previous government relating to power generation, tariff determination and LNG (liquefied natural gas) import.

She said the prime minister decided to hold a detailed consultation on energy in the next cabinet meeting where the agreements, signed by former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to “benefit his family members and cronies” during his party’s government, would also be exposed.

Coronavirus

Following reports of nine more cases of coronavirus found in Sindh, the SAPM said the situation in the country regarding the fatal disease was still under control. However, she added, the prime minister had directed the health ministry to take further steps to control the spread of the disease.

Responding to a question, Dr Awan said coronavirus was not an issue of any political party but of the entire nation. “All the provinces would be provided full assistance in overcoming the epidemic,” she added.

PM’s special assistance Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari and federal Minister for Health Dr Zafar Mirza also met families of the Pakistani students stranded in China these days and could not return to the country due to restrictions imposed to prevent spread of the deadly virus.

Dr Awan said the cabinet imposed a ban on export of personal protective equipment, including special dress, gowns, gloves and surgical masks, to avoid their shortage in the local market. “People need these items in the country to keep them protected from coronavirus,” she added.

Institutional reforms

Ms Awan said SAPM Dr Ishrat Husain presented his committee’s third report on restructuring of federal government institutions and the cabinet approved privatisation of 46 state entities. “Dr Ishrat proposed complete privatisation of 16 institutions and transfer of over 30 to Pakistan Sarmaya Company,” she added.

The cabinet resolved to ensure 50 per cent quota for the capital’s dwellers on grade 1-15 government posts in Islamabad.

The cabinet reviewed the progress on public welfare initiatives by the ministries to ensure provision of direct relief to the masses.

Ms Awan said the model of testing agencies, which conducted tests for recruitment in various government departments, also came under discussion.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2020

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