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Monday June 17, 2024

Wheat scandal: No bigwig in inquiry committee report

PM Shehbaz summons high-level meeting on wheat issue today, approves suspension of multiple officers

By Ayaz Akbar Yousafzai
May 21, 2024
Labourers load sacks of wheat flour at a market in Karachi. — AFP/File
Labourers load sacks of wheat flour at a market in Karachi. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: In a major development for the investigation of the wheat import scandal, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif approved action against responsible officers with no bigwigs of the caretaker government mentioned in inquiry committee's report, sources told Geo News on Tuesday.

According to the sources, the government has decided to suspend four officials of the Ministry of National Food Security over poor planning and negligence, while no action was recommended against any key officials of the caretaker government.

The development came after PM Shehbaz constituted a probe committee led by Secretary Cabinet Division Kamran Ali Afzal, to investigate the import of wheat last year despite a "bumper crop" which has led to excess wheat stock leaving Balochistan and Punjab governments unable to purchase the crop from the farmers.

Earlier this month, the premier had directed Afzal to fix responsibility and inform the individual(s) responsible for the scandal, the premier ordered the cabinet secretary to work out recommendations with available records and documents.

The stock surplus has so far been attributed to the decision of the caretaker government — led by former caretaker prime minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar — allowing the import of 2,758,226 226 metric tonnes of wheat worth Rs225.783 billion till February 2024.

However, Kakar, while denying the narrative, has maintained that only 3.4 million metric tonnes of the said crop was imported; whereas, the shortage was of four million metric tonnes.

The sources told Geo News that the Ministry of National Food Security had apprised PM Shehbaz's cabinet that 28.18 million tonnes of wheat was produced last year and the caretaker government decided to import 2.45 million tonnes more.

The government, as per details, gave its nod for relevant action to be taken against former federal secretary of national food security Muhammad Asif — a Grade 21 officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service who was made OSD earlier.

Meanwhile, officers who are to be suspended include former director general plant protection AD Abid, Food Security Commissioner I Dr Wasim and Director Sohail and Punjab Director Food Security Imtiaz Gopang.

PM Shehbaz summons high-level meeting

Furthermore, PM Shehbaz has summoned a high-level meeting today which will be attended by Food Security Minister Rana Tanveer, relevant officials from Pakistan Agricultural and Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) and the food security department.

During the meeting, the premier will be briefed on the purchase of wheat in light of the procurement target set out by him.

The huddle will also discuss various problems faced by the farmers and what relevant steps have been taken so far to address them.