'Will wait for detailed forensic reports before taking action': PM Imran on sugar, wheat price hikes
Referencing recent reports by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) regarding the sugar and wheat crises in the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday said that he was waiting for the detailed forensic report — which will come out on April 25 — before taking action.
"After these reports come out, no powerful lobby will be able to profiteer at the expense of our public," he said via a tweet.
On Saturday, two reports on the recent sugar and wheat crises in the country were made public, exposing ruling PTI's bigwig Jahangir Tareen and allied parties’ leaders Federal Minister for Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar, Monis Elahi of PML-Q and their relatives as being involved in the scam.
The reports were made public on the directives of the premier who, according to Special Assistant on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, had ordered stern action against those found involved in the crises "irrespective of their status and party affiliation".
A source told Dawn that the prime minister and members of the inquiry commission had been 'threatened with dire consequences if the reports were made public’.
Taking to Twitter today, the prime minister said that he had finally fulfilled the promise made to the people.
"As promised, preliminary reports into [the] sudden price hikes of sugar and wheat have been released without alteration/tampering. This is unprecedented in Pakistan's history," he said.
He added that previous political leaderships lacked the courage to release such information due to their "vested interests and compromises".
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif called for an inquiry into the findings of the reports.
In a statement, the PML-N president stated that he had returned to Pakistan with the objective of helping the country fight the coronavirus outbreak, keeping aside politics and personal interests.
"[But] the reports provide incriminating evidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar.
"Let's wait and see what kind of punishment Imran, who is the chairman of the Economic Coordination Committee, decides for himself and Buzdar," he said.
Shehbaz should also hold his party accountable, says Firdous
Addressing a press conference in Sialkot later in the day, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan stated that the premier had finally fulfilled the promise that he had made to the people.
"When the prime minister saw that there was a fake shortage being created in the supply line for sugar and wheat, he vowed to initiate an inquiry."
However, it is important for the people to realise that the same reports have also exposed the nefarious designs of the Sharif clan, she said.
"Imran Khan has begun the accountability process of his own party. But the reports also highlighted the fact that Salman Shehbaz Sharif was given subsidies worth Rs1.4 billion during the PML-N government's tenure," she said, adding that this was highlighted in the FIA reports.
"Why does that name not come out of Shehbaz Sharif's mouth? Will he be calling his son back and handing him over to the law," she asked.
She urged the opposition leader to follow in the premier's footsteps and take action against those family members who have benefited from the artificial wheat and sugar crises.
She added that the government was waiting for the forensic audit of the report before taking action against those responsible for burdening the common man.
"The decision has been made to hold all those responsible whether they are bureaucrats or advisers. The prime minister has a zero tolerance policy in this regard," she said.
The report on sugar had revealed that two main groups had obtained the maximum benefit during the crisis; one of the groups JWD belonging to Tareen, which has six sugar mills, obtained 12.28 per cent of the total export subsidy amounting to Rs3.058 billion during 2015-18. Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mehmood is a partner in this group.
The report had revealed that in the past few years the production of sugar was historically more than the local requirement, therefore it was imperative to probe and include this aspect related to export of sugar including any subsidy given, its impact on local sugar prices and eventually major beneficiaries of such export subsidies, if any.
According to the document, the production of sugar in 2016-17 and 2017-18 was more than the estimated domestic consumption, hence it was exported. The estimated domestic consumption of Pakistan is around 5.2 million metric tonnes (mmt) per year. In 2016-17, Pakistan had a record 7.08mmt production of sugar while the production in 2017-18 was 6.63mmt.
The other group, identified as RYK group, has four sugar mills owned by Makhdoom Umar Shehryar [a relative of Khusro Bakhtiar], Chaudhry Munir of the opposition PML-N and Monis Elahi of PML-Q, which is part of the ruling coalition. Among them, they availed of a total of 15.83pc export subsidy, amounting to Rs3.944bn during 2015-18.
The report had said that during 2018-19, Tareen’s companies exported 17.24pc of the total production of sugar and availed of 22.71pc of total export subsidy, amounting to Rs561million while companies in the RYK group obtained the export subsidy of Rs452m last year.
The inquiry committee had found that the export of sugar was not justified as sugarcane production was expected to be low in harvesting season 2018-19 and with the export of sugar in Jan 2019, the prices of sugar sharply increased.
It had said the exporters gained benefit in two ways — first they were able to gain subsidy and second they made profit from increasing sugar prices in the local market [the price increased from Rs55 per kg in December 2018 to Rs71.44 in June 2019, although the GST increase was implemented from July 2019].
It had said that no government, except Punjab’s, provided the subsidy and financial layout of subsidy was Rs3bn.
According to the report, Omni Group, which owned eight sugar mills, had obtained export subsidy of Rs901m during the last four years. Omni Group, is also facing a money laundering case along with PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
Additional reporting by Javed Hussain