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April 7, 2020

Revealing report

Editorial

 
April 7, 2020

The report made public on April 4 is not an allegation, but a well-researched document prepared by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) disclosing that Pakistan’s business elite, which include some of the top members of the ruling party and its allied parties as well as opposition parties, has been involved in creating the crippling recent sugar and wheat crises in the country. While the people of this country suffered and the economy of Pakistan had to shoulder further strain, these elites – business and political – were more interested in gaining benefits from the sugar and wheat scarcities in the country. Perhaps the only saving grace for the PTI-led government is the fact that the prime minister himself had ordered the investigation in February and now decided to make it public – although the jury is out on whether he did so because there was no other option. According to the report, two of the people who benefited the most from these crises are PTI leader Jahangir Tareen and a brother of (now former, since he resigned from his post only yesterday evening and was made economic affairs minister) Minister for National Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar. The report also reveals that the companies belonging to Moonis Elahi, son of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, also took advantage of the situation.

The Elahis are key leaders of the PML-Q which is a coalition partner of the PTI both at the federal level and in the provincial government of Punjab. Surprisingly, the report is silent about under whose influence the government of Punjab issued subsidies to sugar mills. The report also does not explain why the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) approved the decision to export sugar, and whether it did so in consultation with or with the approval of the PM. While the report also names the PML-N’s Chaudhry Munir and the Omni group as beneficiaries, the main actors in this case seem to be the ruling party’s people. Special Assistant to PM on accountability, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, has announced that the PM has already promised stern action against those found involved in the crisis irrespective of their status and party affiliation.

The forensic report of the revelations is expected on April 25, but there was a sudden flurry of activity yesterday, with ministers being shuffled around and some even being hired anew, and various secretaries opting for ‘OSD postings’. While there was much action on this front yesterday, it eventually didn’t seem to amount to much other than a literal ministerial reshuffle. Much else will need to be done. The PTI has been crying hoarse at the alleged corruption of the PML-N and the PPP for decades, so now when its own actions leave much to be desired, procrastination is not an option. While Bakhtiar, Elahi, and Tareen have already been named and are facing moral (but perhaps not legal) questions, the nation needs an answer as to why this crisis was allowed to spiral out of hand and why no timely action could not be taken to stem the crisis. Moreover, who is more to blame here – those who availed subsidies which led to a crisis eventually or those who gave them the opportunity to do so?