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April 7, 2020

Sugar crisis report: Jahangir Tareen spill the beans

Top Story

April 7, 2020

KARACHI: Senior leader Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Jahangir Tareen on Monday said he continues to extend his fullest support to Prime Minister Imran Khan, despite the two do not have the bonhomie they enjoyed in the past.

Tareen said this while talking to a private channel said the differences between him and the PM’s Principal Secretary Azam Khan began six months ago when he suggested to the prime minister to come out of the clutches of the bureaucracy and form a strong unit free of bureaucratic red tape to institute the Tabdeeli Agenda of the party on a priority. Tareen said he successfully convinced the PM to the issue as it was felt that without visible reform the government would fail. He said when he drafted the notification after prime minister’s concurrence andhanded it to Azam Khan, the principal secretary replied that it was his exclusive domain job to execute the policies of the PMO. He said the prime minister was also present at the time. Tareen said he did not want to create a new regime but only wanted the critical elements of the PTI’s Tabdeeli Agenda particularly those related to bringing change in the lives of the people a priority in the larger interest of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. He said the prime minister was convince that the government cannot be allowed to run on notifications and summaries, but Azam Khan nipped the idea in the bud. He said there was no unity in their party and everyone worked in isolation while Imran Khan always wanted the party to perform as a team but also confided to him that the star players always played for themselves. Tareen said he always worked as a team member despite his disqualification.

Jehangir Tareen claimed that he and several others act as bridge between the prime minister and the Establisment. He said he fully supported Imran Khan when he appointed Usman Buzdar as chief minister Punjab. He said when anyone complained about Usman Buzdar, the PM would ask him for a suitable candidate and I always felt that there was no available candidate in the current scenario. Tareen said Usman Buzdar always consults PM Khan before taking any significant decision. He said he produces 20 per cent sugar of the country but to achieve that he had done lot of hard work, He said under the law one company could produce as much as 40 per cent sugar of the country’s total production. He said the former finance minister Asad Umar allowed exporting one million tonnes sugar from the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) platform and there was no way I could have influenced him.He said neither any other sugar producers are present in the ECC at the time of decision making. Tareen saying he owns only six sugar mills and it would be better to question the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association. He said at the time of the ECC deicion one million ton sugar was in stocks in Punjab while 300,000 tons sugar was in stocked in other provinces and claimed sugar crisis was not the outcome of the export and whoever commissioned the reports on sugar and wheat crisis is not aware of the market realities.

Jahangir Tareen said the report only comprises the names of the businessmen who received the subsidy from the government. He pointed out that Rs 2.5 billion was given as subsidy during the PML-N regime while the PTI government gave only Rs 500 million subsidy. He said he paid Rs 23 billion tax during the last five years and the subsidy was not a profit.

The senior politician said the international markets were experiencing slow growth and the rupee had devalued to Rs 104 to a USD due to which the government had given the subsidy to the sugar sector to increase export. He said the low sugar prices previously was the result of low sugarcane price. He said he only grows 8 per cent of sugarcane himself while purchase the remaining 92 per cent from the farmers. He said there is no harm in growing sugarcane but people prefer it over cotton as the government has never invested in research on better quality seeds.

Jahangir Tareen said the sugar cane prices were being regulated by the authorities, adding that no one would ask for subsidy if you allow the sector autonomy. He said he was in sugar business since 1992 and later joined politics, adding that when the PTI was defeated in 2013 elections, he told Imran Khan that the elections win would require a different strategy and needed stronger candidates reflecting the political families in Punjab. He said when he floated the idea everyone in the party went against him and was accused for hijacking the party. He said in the 2018 elections, the PTI had won 67 per cent of the seats by the candidates 80 per cent belonged to political families while 60 per cent belonged to families, who joined the PTI after 2013 elections and most of them were introduced to the party by him. He said some people thought that the PTI would come in power in the Centre, while the Sharifs would continue their hold in Punjab but the PTI formed government in Punjab too.

Jahangir Tareen said he had no role in the removal of former finance minister Asad Umar but because Asad could not deliver what the prime minister expected from him. He said the subsidy was allowed by the Punjab cabinet not by an individual and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was investigating his employees and he has provided all documents. He said he would not return subsidy money because he did not do anything wrong and the Punjab government had given the subsidy. He said he is the part of PTI and would remain the part, while talking about the relations with the prime minister and said everything soon would be okay as before.

The PTI leader said most of the people named in the investigation report did not belong to the PTI whose saying the federal minister of economic affairs Khusro Bakhtiar and his family exported huge quantity of sugar and so thety received more subsidy. He said the situation would be clear by April 25, when the detail report would come. He said he did not know anything about the wheat crisis. Jahangir Tareen said all that he knows is that at the end of November, 2019, the ministry of food security had asked representatives of Sindh and KPK if they had adequate wheat stocks. He said they told to provide 400,000 tons of wheat to Sindh and 450,000 tons of wheat to KPK and the summary was approved by the ECC.

The PTI leader informed that when Sindh took 100,000 tons of wheat out of 400,000 tons, transporters went on strike that created the chaos and led to a price hike. He also said when the prices rose in Sindh, the Punjab traders began to sell their wheat to Sindh causing price hike in Punjab forcing the Punjab government to seal its borders. He said 60 per cent of wheat for KPK comes from Punjab, when the price rose in Punjab, it was apparent that the same would happen in KPK.

Jahangir Tareen said when the Punjab government finally opened its borders the prices of wheat dropped, while Sindh mismanaged the entire episode. He said the prime minister and Wajid Zia were not threatened by anyone. He said Pakistan Sugar Mills Association had just said that the supply line could be broken if the businessmen continue to be harassed and that might create a crisis.

Tareen said he sold his sugar at the minimum prices and had to face the opposition from the sugar mills owners. He said the people were discussing about posting of an administrator to control the sugar mills, asking ifit was crime to do business in Pakistan. He said such decision might have serious repercussions and would cause great loss to the country’s economy.

Talking to another private channel, The PTI leader Jehangir Tareen under fire for involvement in the sugar scandal has accused Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Azam Khan of conspiring against him.

The PTI leader told the anchor that he had been constantly suggesting to the prime minister that he needs to have a robust organisation to carry over his policy decisions to institute the Tabdeeli agenda of the party by improving the structure bottom up, instead of a Principal Secretary who just plays around with the procedural summaries. It was nothing personal but the suggestion put off Azam Khan, who is the current Principal Secretary at the PMO, five months ago. The Principal Secretary perceived my suggestion as an attempt to clip his wings.

Regarding the sugar crisis, Tareen said the decision to export sugar was taken by the ECC led by the then finance minister Asad Umar in view of the availability of the surplus stocks of the commodity. I may be able to influence some people but certainly not the fiercely independent Asad Umar. The ECC said it is upto the provincial government to decide whether to reduce the support price for sugar cane or to allow subsidy. There would have been no requirement of subsidy had the provincial government fixed the sugar cane price to Rs 160. The Punjab government decided against reducing the crop price but allowed subsidy. The PTI leader said the inquiry report has not made any formal allegations against any of us and that cannot happen until the outcome of a conclusive report.

He said it is virtually not possible to sale sugar at Rs 50 against its production cost of Rs 63. The inquiry report agrees the production cost falls around Rs 80. Now it is upto the government to assess the production cost of sugar and decide if the price of sugar is excessive.

Regarding his relationship with the prime minister, Jehangir Tareen claimed he had have such a commitment with ‘my leader’ that I can never be swayed away from his side come what may. He said it is entirely prime minister’s discretion whom to lend ears to for advice.

Talking to yet another TV channel, Tareen said the premier was still his friend and that he continues to stand by the PM's cause.

"I'm in touch with Imran Khan on WhatsApp and that is likely to continue. I have no issues with him, the party or his vision for the country. As prime minister, it's his discretion to work with whoever he wants. I have no bitterness with his decision making. He is the prime minister of Pakistan, after all," Tareen said during the talk. He also acknowledged that he has a long-running conflict with Azam Khan, the principal secretary of Imran Khan.

"When we came into power, I had a different vision on how to govern the country. He (Azam Khan) has a different one. I had told Mr Khan that the government's job was not to enact incremental change but to transform the entire country," Tareen said.

"Azam Khan disagrees with my vision for the country because he realises that enacting a transformative agenda would leave him powerless. I have always been against bureaucratic hurdles," Tareen explained. The sugar baron also revealed that a vast majority of the prime minister's cabinet agreed with his vision for the country. "I think 70 per cent of his cabinet agrees with what I say. But the prime minister fully trusts Azam Khan. But he also knows me. He knows the kind of man I am. He knows I get things done," Tareen said.

Asked whether an "anti-JKT lobby had become dominant" in the ruling PTI which led to the allegations against him, Tareen said: "I think that is a more credible explanation than any other explanation." Tareen also criticised the inquiry reports on sugar and wheat crises, calling it a report without context.

He said that the truth was yet to come out because the report was incomplete. "The weakness of this report is that it has no flesh, it consists of bare bones," Tareen said.

Responding to allegations that he pushed the prime minister to approve sugar exports, Tareen said: "I've never manipulated [Imran] ... I've never given wrong information to Khan sahib, never can and never will."

He said there was no correlation between sugar exports and the rise in the commodity's price because there has been no shortage of sugar in the country. "Sugar prices rose only because sugarcane's price increased," he added, saying 80 per cent of sugar's cost of production is the price of sugarcane.

Tareen claimed that he had exported less sugar than his market share. He rubbished opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif's claim that he (Tareen) had been given a "gift of Rs18 billion" by Prime Minister Imran through subsidies, saying no player in the industry receives direct transfers.

"Are you heartbroken?" the anchor asked Tareen about the developments of recent days. "Not at all," responded the PTI leader. "I am happy in every situation. I am somebody who has faced ups and downs in life. What goes up comes down, what comes down will also go up." He said he does not have any "political mission" for the future and "would rather concentrate on my family and my business".