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April 6, 2020

A lucky escape for Usman Buzdar

Top Story

April 6, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The FIA Inquiry report on wheat and sugar scandals served as a “lucky escape” for Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar besides ignoring the fundamental question as to who had authorised Jahangir Tareen to call the shots in the agriculture sector and chair important policy meetings in the PM’s Office.

The inquiry report on wheat did mention serious failures of the Punjab government and also pointed out what it called “erratic transfers” in the Food Department, including transfer of four food secretaries and of nearly all district food controllers (DFCs) thrice during the year. However, the report conveniently ignored who had made these changes.

On January 25, 2020, The News carried an investigative story titled — “Wheat crisis has its roots in Buzdar Office” — revealing how in violation of Rules of Business, the Punjab chief minister had interfered into the authority of the food departments and transferred DFCs on political basis.

These untimely transfers had caused mismanagement leading to severe flour crisis in the country. The News report had referred to copies of two official summaries, which were moved by the then Punjab Food Secretary Zafar Nasrullah Khan, in July and August 2019 seeking confirmation of transfers of 19 Food Department officers of grade 16 and 17 in several districts of the province.

The legal authority for transfer and posting of district food controller (DFC) is secretary Food Department, but here these appointments were made by the chief minister. A DFC is considered lynchpin of the whole wheat department operations for being head of Food Department in a district.

These summaries showed that CM Secretariat was blatantly interfering in the transfers and postings made soon after procurement of wheat was completed. These summaries showed the secretary Food Department sending the summary to get written confirmation of postings made on the direction of the chief minister.

Now the FIA inquiry report says, “Punjab government resorted to erratic transfers in Food Department including posting/transfer of four food secretaries and of nearly all DFCs, thrice during the year.” According to the report, the Punjab Food Department failed to devise a mechanism to regulate the demand and supply of wheat, and keep track of the government and private wheat stocks that started heading in every direction, without being accounted for. The Punjab Food Department did not put in place any reforms to rectify the situation.

The FIA inquiry committee’s report admitted that the current wheat crisis as the consequence of a saga of failures at the policy and planning levels both by the federal and provincial governments who massively failed in public procurement of wheat. Usman Buzdar also approved the sugar subsidy despite the fact that the federal government had declined the same.

Neither the FIA’s sugar report nor the wheat report mention anywhere that who had made Jahangir Tareen, an unelected and disqualified person, as incharge of agriculture sector.

The report also ignored the fact the Jahangir Tareen used to preside meetings on agriculture sector including wheat in the Prime Minister Office. The FIA report also failed to mention that Jahangir Tareen was even once invited to attend the cabinet meeting as an agriculture expert.

The FIA reports were also silent as to who authorised Tareen to act as policymaker on agriculture issues despite being a disqualified person? Who invited Tareen to the federal cabinet to present his agriculture emergency package and policies? Who permitted Tareen to call and chair meetings on agriculture issues in the PM Office? All agriculture related secretaries from federation, Punjab and KP used to attend these meetings raising the question who had directed bureaucracy to listen to Tareen as if he was minister for agriculture. It remains to be seen if these questions will be answered on the final inquiry commission report that is due on April 25th.

It is said that all 18 projects included in last budget in the name of agriculture emergency were prepared under director supervision of Tareen. Even private consultants and experts belonging to Tareen private office were invited to agriculture ministry policy and planning meetings.

Insiders close to Tareen claim, “JKT is the most competent person in PTI, his expertise is sought in various areas but only as input, he is not the official decision maker, he has done nothing against the rules or broken any law. Subsidies were given in the past also by successor governments. The final commission report should be awaited.”