Govt in dock over sugar probe body’s notification

Updated 10 Jul 2020

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IHC seeks record of report on misuse of funds, cartelisation. — Dawn/File
IHC seeks record of report on misuse of funds, cartelisation. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: An ex-post facto notification about the constitution of the sugar commission has put the government in the dock as the Islamabad High Court, seized with an intra-court appeal moved by the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) and sugar barons, on Thursday sought record related to the inquiry report on the misuse of public money and cartelisation leading to a massive increase in prices of the commodity.

Besides the PSMA, sugar mills owned by Jahangir Khan Tareen and his son Ali Khan Tareen, Suleman Shahbaz, son of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, Makhdoom Omer Shehryar, brother of federal Minister for Economic Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, PTI leader Sardar Ali Raza Khan Dreshak and others have challenged the inquiry report of the commission constituted to probe the sugar scam.

Makhdoom Ali Khan, the counsel for the sugar industry, informed an IHC division bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb that the government had on March 19 notified the six-member commission; however, another member from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been added to the commission on March 25.

He argued that as per the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017, the constitution of the commission was not lawful as its notification had not been published in the official gazette. He said the commission, without examining its legality, had commenced the proceedings against the sugar mills and submitted a report to the government.

IHC seeks record of report on misuse of funds, cartelisation

The counsel said the federal cabinet had on May 21 approved the report and delegated power to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar to implement the recommendations of the commission.

It may be noted that the commission has recommended registration of criminal cases against the sugar mill owners under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) and Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

The counsel said the sugar industry had challenged the inquiry report on June 15, adding that IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had validated the report and disposed of the petition on June 20. He argued that the issue relating to publication of the notification in the official gazette was pointed out during the hearing on June 20. However, the notifications were published in the gazette on July 6 and 7.

As per the notification published on July 6, the commission’s members included Wajid Zia of the Federal Investigation Agency, Gohar Nafees of the Anti-Corruption Establishment (Punjab), Ahmed Kamal of the Intelligence Bureau, Bilal Rasool of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Majid Hussain Chaudhry of the State Bank of Pakistan and Bashirullah Khan of the Directorate of Intelligence and Investigation of the Federal Board of Revenue. The subsequent notification published on July 7 related to the inclusion of ISI’s representative Colonel Faisal Gul in the inquiry commission.

When the IHC bench inquired from Additional Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Khokhar about the publication of notification in the gazette, he said it had been published.

“Are you sure about publication of the notification in the gazette?” asked Justice Aurangzeb.

“Yes, I am sure about the publication,” Mr Khokhar replied.

Counsel Khan requested the court to suspend the inquiry report till the adjudication of the matter.

However, Mr Khokhar argued that the appellants had taken similar stance before the Supreme Court in an identical case.

The bench asked the attorney general to appear before it on July 15 to assist the court in the matter. The court directed Mr Khokhar to submit documents showing the federal cabinet had deliberated on this matter as well.

Institutional reforms

Sugar mill owners urged the government to introduce institutional reforms to bring down the prices of sugar.

“Institutional reforms, including deregulation, could reduce sugar price volatility, ease cyclical highs/lows and improve stability in the sugar sector. So, a mutually acceptable costing exercise should be held by an independent international accounting firm that could also be useful for better/informed policy decisions to be taken for mutual benefits of both the consumers and the industry,” read a letter written by the PSMA chairman to federal Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar.

“To discuss this and other proposals, we will request that a meeting with the sugar advisory board may be called at the earliest,” it said.

The PSMA also sought a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan so as to explain to him the association’s point of view to clear the misconceptions about the industry.

Khalid Hasnain in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2020