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NA panel snubs cartels for unprecedented food price hike

By Mehtab Haider
October 09, 2019

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee asked the government to break cartelisation that leads to lofty profiteering at the cost of voiceless consumers as food prices witnessed an unprecedented hike in September, sources said on Tuesday.

National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance mainly recommended measures on macroeconomic front to tame inflation, but it also asked the government to break up cartelisation in certain important economic sectors.

Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) data showed that prices of sugar went up 35 percent, chicken 64 percent, onion 96 percent, potatoes 30 percent, fresh vegetables 25 percent and wheat 12 percent in September over the corresponding month a year earlier.

Spiraling food prices made lives of poorest of the poor miserable with the government opening up “Langarkhana” to support them.

Sources said the National Price Monitoring Committee, working under the supervision of secretary finance, proved clueless about how to check hike in food prices, despite holding couple of meetings after the directives of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance.

“Without restoration of magistrate powers for provinces, the price control cannot be done effectively,” a source, familiar with a NA panel’s recommendation, said. Aisha Ghaus Pasha, chairperson of subcommittee of National Assembly on Finance and Revenue told The News that it was an irony the subcommittee submitted its findings about price hike before the release of latest figures on food inflation from the PBS.

Poor segments of the society consume 50 to 55 percent of their income to meet food expenses, “so this kind of price surge would result into falling of more poor into poverty trap,” Pasha said.

“The subcommittee presented its report without having any political consideration or for purpose of any point scoring but it genuinely believed that the macroeconomic policies were playing havoc with the lives of common people of Pakistan,” she said.

The subcommittee chairperson said there were three to four basic factors resulting into fueling inflationary pressures. Devaluation of rupee against the US dollar pushed up prices of imported items, such as petroleum products, palm oil and fertilisers.

Secondly, she said the higher policy rate caused budget deficit to widen and the country’s debt on both domestic and external fronts reached new heights, “so with these policies the budget deficit could not be curtailed”.asha said imposition of indirect taxes also pushed up prices.

Citing an example, she said prices of textile products had gone up after withdrawal of zero-rating regime. Exporters got liquidity, but prices of domestic products of textile escalated, she added.

The parliamentary panel chairperson said poor people fulfill their calorie requirements through wheat, sugar and dairy products. She deplored over poor mismanagement of the government in controlling price hike related to these basic food items.

To another query, she said the subcommittee did not include recommendations on microeconomic factors in its report. She, however, said she could tell from her experience that there was a need to establish economic intelligence units at provincial levels to project supply and demand of certain items, “so that the provincial governments could manage prices of essential items on the basis of prior projections”.

“Price control mechanism at provincial level needs to be strengthened,” she added. There is a need to renegotiate loan program with the International Monetary Fund by reminding the Fund that the front-loaded program exerted immense pressures on common people.

“Many million would fall into poverty trap so now the time has come when the policy rate must be reversed gradually, exchange rate should be stabilised at its existing range and burden of indirect taxation should be diverted towards direct taxation,” Pasha concluded.