ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar addressing a press conference on Wednesday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar addressing a press conference on Wednesday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: Just a week after the release of the forensic audit report that uncovered wrongdoings in sugar industry and implicated an erstwhile confidante of the prime minister among key political figures for last year’s sugar crisis, the government turned its guns on the main opposition party for giving the lion’s share in the Rs29 billion export subsidy to mill owners during the past five years.

“Ex-prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who claims himself as the ‘most genius man’, had given Rs20 billion subsidy,” said Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability and Interior Ministry as well as chief of the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) Shahzad Akbar while addressing a press conference on Wednesday.

Referring to the forensic audit, Mr Akbar said: “The inquiry commission was quite critical about the role of the ex-prime minister in giving subsidy to the sugar mafia during his tenure.

“The sugar commission’s report is an indictment against Ex-PM Abbasi and others.”

Reading out some findings of the commission, Mr Akbar said: “The commission is of the view that as per the documentary evidence available as discussed, the calculation of subsidy based on the cost of production in 2017-18 was not done with due diligence while approving the subsidy of Rs20 billion. Mr Shahid Khaqan Abbas could not provide [reasons].”

However, Mr Akbar exonerated the federal government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in giving any subsidy on sugar in its tenure but only allowed to export the surplus sugar.

“The credit goes to the government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) which probed sugar scam, collected evidence, made the report public and now going to take corrective measures,” he said.

The inquiry commission, which was constituted by the government in the first week of April, released inquiry reports on the issue of artificial shortage of sugar in the country and sudden increase in their prices in 2019.

The PM’s aide, however, did not attempt to defend Chief Minister Usman Buzdar for giving Rs2.4 billion subsidy to the sugar mills last year. He said the food and agriculture secretary had admitted fault of the provincial government regarding the provision of export subsidy.

In response to a question, he said cases against all involved in the scam would be sent to relevant investigation departments such as National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). “Irrespective of their party affiliation, the government would take action against all culprits exposed in the investigation report of the commission,” he added.

The investigation found sugar production was historically more than the local requirement over the past few years and said it was therefore imperative to include this aspect related to sugar export, including any subsidy given, its impact on local prices and eventually major beneficiaries of such export subsidies, if any. The inquiry committee found the sugar export was not justified as sugarcane production was expected to be low in harvesting season 2018-19.

The commission in its report wrote about the subsidy given in 2017 by ex-PM Abbasi that on the basis of superficial calculations, a subsidy of more than Rs20 billion was allocated from the public exchequer to the sugar mills.

The PM’s aide also blamed Slaman Shahbaz, son of opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, as a “facilitator” who by leading the “cartel” of Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) convinced ex-PM Abbasi for giving subsidy of Rs20bn.

Mr Akbar said a fresh case against Shahbaz Sharif, PML-N president and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, was ready to be filed by NAB and said although the opposition leader returned from London to lead the nation, he had self-quarantined himself allegedly to avoid appearance in the accountability court to face corruption charges against him. “No matter what Shahbaz Sharif would have to submit before the court of law in corruption cases against him,” he added.

Prime Minster Imran Khan will be briefed about the findings next week and he is likely to direct the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and other relevant departments to file references in the court of law, in light of the commission’s report.

The PM’s aide said ex-PM Abbasi had given subsidy on sugar export when sugar price was quite high ($577 per metric tonne) in international market. There was no justification of giving subsidy to the mill owners then, he argued. “If he (Mr Abbasi) was such a ‘genius’ he should have allowed import of entire stocks of surplus sugar in the country without giving any subsidy so that ample foreign exchange could be fetched,” he added.

Later, the PM’s aide also criticised the controversial role of government departments such as the SECP and Competition Commission of Pakistan for favouring mill owners in their wrongdoings.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2020

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