ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday witnessed an intense debate on the ongoing price hike and shortage of commodities, with Prime Minister Imran Khan reprimanding some ministers and officials for failing to control inflation.
Presiding over the meeting, the prime minister vowed to bring back prices of essential items, especially wheat flour and sugar, to their previous position by importing both commodities.
The meeting deferred a decision of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to increase support price of wheat from Rs1,400 per 40kg to Rs1,600 for two days after the prime minister directed that all provinces be taken on board on the matter.
A participant of the meeting, who did not want to be named, told Dawn that Minister for Food Security Fakhar Imam, Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bakhtiar, the food security secretary and officials from the Trading Corporation of Pakistan faced harsh criticism from some cabinet members over the skyrocketing prices of consumer items.
“There was a clear divide in the cabinet over the price hike as many of them agreed that daily-use items had gone out of reach of the people,” he added.
The source said Prime Minister Khan admonished the relevant ministers and federal secretaries, reiterating that he had been asking the authorities concerned since April to take the steps required to control prices but no one paid any heed.
He said the prime minister was of the view that the situation could have been averted if remedial steps were taken on time.
Another cabinet member said Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari demanded punitive action against those responsible for the shortage of food items and price hike.
He said the prime minister assured the meeting that after the required quantity of sugar and wheat was imported, prices would come down to their original level.
At present, sugar is being sold at over Rs110 per kg against its previous price of Rs65 while naan (bread), which was available for Rs10 before the crisis, now costs Rs15.
Prime Minister Khan told the meeting that consumption of sugar had increased sevenfold in Punjab in recent days which indicated that either the commodity had been hoarded or was being smuggled to other areas.
The meeting again held the Sindh government responsible for the wheat crisis, which, it said, had not procured the commodity since last year.
“This increased the price of wheat in Sindh, as a result of which traders sent the commodity from Punjab and other parts of the country to earn more profit, making it dearer,” the source quoted the cabinet members as saying.
Mr Khan said the situation became more complex when torrential rains damaged the wheat’s expected bumper crop during the harvest season.
However, he hoped the crisis would end by January 2021 when the import process would be complete.
The meeting was informed that at present, 266,939 tonnes of sugar was available in the country, with the private sector having imported 99,636 tonnes. In November, an additional 52,951 tonnes of sugar will be available.
The meeting took important decisions, approving a proposal regarding requests of Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) by some non-treaty countries as well as a plan to revive Pakistan Railways.
The prime minister directed the relevant authorities to complete the Main Line-1 (ML-1) project.
The cabinet was informed that 129 posts of executive officers and 33 of managing directors were lying vacant in the public sector, after which the prime minister directed that the positions be filled in three months.
Establishment of the National Medical and Dental Academy Board under the recently promulgated Pakistan Medical Commission Act 2020 was also approved.
The meeting gave the go-ahead to a proposal of granting remission in the sentences of prisoners on the occasion of Eid Miladun Nabi.
On the issue of blasphemous sketches in France, the meeting decided to raise the matter from the platform of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020