Imran angry over delay in wheat import

Updated 21 Oct 2020

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Prime Minister Imran Khan presided over a meeting of the federal cabinet on Tuesday. — Photo courtesy Prime Minister's Office Twitter
Prime Minister Imran Khan presided over a meeting of the federal cabinet on Tuesday. — Photo courtesy Prime Minister's Office Twitter

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday reprimanded the relevant authorities for delaying the import of wheat which led to flour shortage in the country.

Presiding over a meeting of the federal cabinet, Prime Minister Khan said the situation could have been averted if at least 1.5 million tonnes of wheat had been imported in July this year.

A participant of the meeting, who did not want to be named, told Dawn that the prime minister termed it an administrative failure. He quoted the prime minister as saying: “I had foreseen the crisis and ordered the import of wheat in April but it was not obeyed.”

He agreed that the bureaucracy did not take the decision on the import of wheat out of fear of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but also accepted that the responsibility ultimately fell on the government.

Another source said Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh also complained that the bureaucracy was not signing files as it was scared of NAB.

PM seeks update on sugar scam in next meeting; cabinet wants strict measures in place to avert Covid-19

At a function on Monday, the prime minister had said that unexpected rains this year, especially during the wheat harvesting season, had resulted in less yield of the crop, which caused shortage in the market and an increase in price.

The meeting was informed that the Punjab government was releasing 17,000 to 20,000 tonnes of wheat every day and the commodity was also being supplied to the utility stores as per demand. It was also told that the Sindh government was releasing 85,000 tonnes of wheat to mills in the current month.

The cabinet, however, reiterated its resolve to ensure adequate supply of food items to the market and take steps to reduce their prices.

Sugar inquiry report

A cabinet member said the prime minister expressed concern over the non-implementation of the sugar inquiry report and asked why action was not being taken against those involved in the scam.

Read: Sugar inquiry report — a damning indictment of regulators

According to the Prime Minister Office, Mr Khan sought the latest update on the matter in the next cabinet meeting.

The cabinet member said when the prime minister’s spokesman, Nadeem Afzal Chan, asked Adviser to the PM on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar why action was not being taken against those involved in the sugar scam, the prime minister intervened and urged Mr Chan to avoid giving a generalised opinion in the meeting as he (Mr Chan) did not know the technicalities of the matter.

Prime Minister Khan sought a detailed report on wheat and sugar in the next cabinet meeting with an in-depth analysis of the prices and requirements.

The cabinet was also briefed on the reserves, import and prices of sugar and informed that the process of physical verification had been initiated in line with Wajid Zia’s sugar inquiry report.

The cabinet was told that an average of 0.2 million to 0.25m tonnes of sugar produce was recorded and the decision on its import was also taken to meet future needs. In the next few days, around 0.2m tonnes of the commodity would reach the country.

The meeting was informed that the sugarcane crushing season would start in the next 20 days, and in case of delay, a fine of Rs500,000 would be levied on the millers.

The Punjab government had already made an amendment to the law in this regard.

Covid-19 cases

The meeting called for putting in place strict precautionary measures to avert the risk of a second Covid-19 wave. It was noted with concern that the number of positive cases during the current month had increased by two per cent, compared to July and August, while the death toll had hit double digit.

The meeting advised the nation to adopt health protocols, including use of masks, to avoid the spread of the virus.

The government’s effective strategy with regard to the pandemic, which had gained worldwide acknowledgment, was also discussed in the meeting.

On behalf of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s office-bearers, Minister for Information Technology Syed Aminul Haq presented a cheque for Rs1,033,933 to the prime minister for his Covid Relief Fund.

The cabinet gave approval to setting up of an ad hoc management committee of the Gun and Country Club in Islamabad. It also brought Sindh Infrastructure Development Company under the purview of the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives and extended the additional charge of its chief executive.

The meeting endorsed the decisions of the Cabinet Committee on Institutional Reforms of Oct 7, the Economic Coordination Committee of Oct 14 and 15, the Cabinet Committee on Legislation of Oct 19 and Cabinet Committee on Energy regarding supply of furnace oil of Oct 15.

The cabinet also approved 98 new licences of overseas employment promoters. It withdrew 18 licences, transferred 10 and amended the jurisdiction of five licences.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020