LAHORE: The wheat flour crisis inquiry report has begun taking its toll as Punjab Food Minister Samiullah Chaudhry tendered his resignation on Monday, while two other characters named in the investigation report– then food secretary Nasim Sadiq and Food Director Zafar Iqbal – were also relieved of their present assignments and made officers on special duty (OSDs).
The opposition parties, however, expressed their dissatisfaction with the action taken by the Punjab government, saying the minster and the officials were being made scapegoats to protect the “actual culprits”.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report made public on Saturday blamed the Punjab food department for delaying wheat procurement campaign by over two weeks and declared that the then secretary failed to introduce reforms in the department.
The public outcry over the report apparently made Mr Chaudhry to quit his office for claiming a high moral ground.
He called on Chief Minister Usman Buzdar before calling it a day, and submitted a handwritten short note in the afternoon, announcing his decision to quit the provincial cabinet.
In the note addressing the chief minister, Mr Chaudhry said: “[I am] ready to sacrifice thousands of such portfolios for the accomplishment of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s agenda.”
“Baseless allegations are being levelled against me for the last few days in reference to not introducing reforms in the food department. Because of it, I announce voluntarily resigning [from my office]. I don’t consider myself qualified for the office until I’m proven not guilty. And I’m ready to offer myself for accountability at every forum,” reads the note penned in Urdu language.
Meanwhile, a notification issued by the Services & General Administration Department says Mr Nasim Sadiq, grade-21 officer, has been asked to report to the department. A grade-18 officer, Tahir Farooq, was posted as DGK commissioner. Mr Sadiq was presently serving as Dera Ghazi Khan commissioner.
Mr Sadiq claims he himself requested the authorities to relieve him as he desired to fight for getting his name cleared in the case without being in any public office so that no one could accuse him of influencing the investigation.
He also pledges to move a court of law in this respect.
He argued that he had taken charge as the food secretary when wheat procurement drive had already entered its eighth day and thus could not be blamed for delaying the process.
He also shared a letter (dated June 11, 2019), written by National Food Security Secretary Dr Hashim Popalzai, who has also been shown the door in connection with the sugar scam, which says the wheat procurement was meeting the target set by the provincial food department and Passco.
The same letter, however, also expresses concern at increasing prices of wheat and wheat flour in the local market.
A close aide of Mr Sadiq, from provincial civil service, tells Dawn that the former secretary believes that a powerful lobby of Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), is behind his implication in the scam for certain reasons.
The aide also discloses that Mr Sadiq was on good terms with PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen.
Meanwhile, Punjab N League’s information secretary Ms Azma Bukhari says Samiullah Chaudhry has been made a scapegoat to protect the prime minister and Punjab chief minister who, she says, are the “real culprits” in the sugar and flour scams.
She regrets that the portfolio of Khusro Bakhtiyar, whose group has also been named in the sugar scandal, has been changed from National Food Security to Economic Division. She thinks that instead of changing his portfolio, Mr Bakhtiyar should have been shown the door.
PPP parliamentary leader Hassan Murtaza also endorses her stance and demands that the PTI senior leadership, following in the footsteps of Mr Chaudhry, should resign from their offices.
He argues that as the subsidy for sugar export had been approved by the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister, they are the main accused in the case and they must quit their respective offices at once.
The Pakistan Awami Tehreek has, however, welcomed the government’s steps of making public the reports and initiating action against those found responsible.
PAT information secretary Noorullah Siddiqui lauds the action against a sitting minister and bureaucrats, saying as long as traders and industrialists are allowed to make official policies such scandals will continue to surface.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020