WITH the court cases challenging the formation of the sugar inquiry commission and the report it had produced out of its way for now, the National Accountability Bureau has initiated its investigation into the shortages of the sweetener last winter that saw its domestic prices shoot through the roof. The NAB probe is one of multiple inquiries Prime Minister Imran Khan had sanctioned in June against sugar mill owners on the basis of the comprehensive findings of a forensic audit report prepared by the commission. That was an unprecedented move because the government had decided to investigate an entire industrial sector that had been operating as a cartel for decades. The report had brought to light the various systemic issues in the industry, underscoring the fact that the powerful mill owners had for years cheated poor farmers, evaded taxes, secured massive government subsidies and committed corporate fraud. And yet, they got away with these crimes because of their clout over political parties and successive governments. Thus, it was but natural that the mill owners moved the courts to stop the government from conducting investigations that could lead to their incrimination.
Politicians of all hue have a stake in the sugar business and operate collectively to get massive financial favours from the government at the expense of hapless taxpayers and consumers. It is for the first time in the country’s history that a government has taken on this powerful mafia and initiated multiple probes into different types of frauds committed by the industry. Given the reputation of NAB, many suspect that its inquiry against the sugar mills could turn into a witch-hunt of certain politicians belonging to the opposition parties or those who have fallen out with the ruling party’s leadership. It is therefore important for the anti-graft agency to ensure that no one gets away or gets punished because of political affiliations. That will not only further damage NAB’s image but could also hurt efforts to bring to book those who have looted the national exchequer and consumers.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2020