Punjab exported wheat on Asad Umar’s orders: ex-minister

Updated April 08, 2020

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Planning minister says it was a collective decision. — Reuters/File
Planning minister says it was a collective decision. — Reuters/File

LAHORE: In his first media encounter since resigning as Punjab food minister a day ago, Samiullah Chaudhry on Tuesday claimed that Asad Umar, as then federal finance minister, had asked for exporting wheat despite his opposition.

Threatening to expose the forces involved in the wheat flour report conspiracy, he said the inquiry committee never wished to summon him for investigation.

“Asad Umar as federal finance minister had chaired a high-level meeting in Islamabad early last year and asked for exporting some of the wheat stocks, 7.2 million tonnes in Punjab at that time. I opposed the move because the government would have to offer subsidy for the export [for the grain being costlier than the world prices],” Mr Chaudhry told a private TV channel.

“I said the country could not afford to give the subsidy and suggested rather selling out the same stocks in the local market [for the benefit of the local population],” he said, adding that flour mills in Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still enjoyed subsidised wheat at the cost of Punjab kitty and he had asked the FIA DG-led inquiry committee to also include this fact in its report.

Planning minister says it was a collective decision

“Punjab is unfairly incurring the cost of the subsidy offered on the wheat supplied to Islamabad and KP mills. The beneficiaries must share the liability,” he added.

Mr Chaudhry said Punjab had procured 83 per cent of the wheat produced last year, while no other province purchased a single grain [which led to the flour crisis later in 2019].

Terming the FIA report one-sided, he cast doubts about its purpose. “It seemed the inquiry committee members were bent upon fixing responsibility, whether right or wrong, as the prime minister had given them the task to do it.”

The former minister claimed that the committee never summoned him and he joined the investigation on his own. He alleged that the committee neither properly recorded his statement nor made the letters he had written to the department concerned part of the report.

About the allegation made in the report that as a minister he had failed to introduce reforms in his department, Mr Chaudhry said he had not joined the cabinet with reforms in the food department as his agenda but would first ask the Federal Investigation Agency and Anti-Corruption Establishment authorities, who were part of the inquiry committee, how much reforms they had introduced in their own agencies.

Moreover, when the secretary of the department would be transferred four times in just one-and-a-half years, and without seeking opinion of the minister, then how reforms could be introduced, he wondered.

In his reaction to the allegation, Asad Umar, now Minister for Planning and Development, said it was not his personal but a collective decision taken on the condition that prices won’t be allowed to be increased in the local market. He said the decision was first taken by the Economic Coordination Committee and then endorsed by the federal cabinet.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2020