Wednesday December 06, 2023

More political fallout after inquiry commission findings

April 07, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Jahangir Tareen was fully aware several days before the official release of the report on sugar shortage and price escalation scam that it is being made public.

“I knew I will be targeted,” he told a close associate, who confided this to The News on condition of anonymity. “I know the reason why I am being gunned for and who is behind it.”

After the release of the report by the government, Tareen tweeted on April 4: Some points to note on sugar inquiry report 1. My companies exported 12.28% while my market share is 20% so less than I could have 2. Export was on first come first serve basis 3. Of the total Rs3bn subsidy received Rs 2.5bn came when PML-N was in power and I was in opposition.

The report on sugar and wheat scandals was prepared by an inquiry committee, headed by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Wajid Zia, which was formed by Prime Minister Imran Khan after the shortages of these commodities and a massive increase in their price generated an intense public furore.

To carry out in-depth probe, a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) having the same composition has been constituted. What political scenario the final findings of the CoI will spawn if it found anything incriminating against powerful sugar barons is anybody’s guess at the moment.

However, there are several mandatory legal processes that will be required to be followed before anybody, found guilty by the CoI, would be awarded punishment by a court of law. This stage is too far and may not even come because those arraigned were wealthy people and would use their resources to impede any legal action.

Although Tareen or any other sugar magnet had no official role whatsoever in sanctioning the sugar export or subsidy on it, it is a common knowledge that he had been instrumental in major decision-making of the government relating to agriculture. In fact, he has been announcing the government policies pertaining to this sector much before they had been made public by the concerned ministers and ministries.

Pocketing of billions of rupees by the sugar mills through hike in sugar prices when the export continued is a piercing question that has not been answered by the FIA report. It will be impossible to recover the managed hefty windfall in the shape of increase in sugar prices.

A legal expert explained that the mere report of the CoI that will be given by Wajid Zia to the prime minister will not be a judicial judgment, but will be just findings on the basis of which further action may be initiated if the government decides so.

There will be various options available to the prime minister to act after the receipt of the report. He may keep it or may make it public, leaving the matter closed at this point, forcing the “guilty” to leave the government or the ruling party or be prepared to be sacked. Or he may refer the findings to the FIA, Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) or National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for further investigations and registration of criminal cases. The NAB has powers to take up on its own the sugar and wheat scandals for further probe and subsequent trial of the accused as it has done multiple times in different cases.

The FIA report about the alleged money laundering through fake bank accounts was handed over to the NAB on the basis of which it arrested former President Asif Ali Zardari and others and is proceeding against them in accountability courts.

Informed circles claim that the very preparation of the report and its release was the result of a tussle between Tareen and an influential man. Tareen himself shed life on the strife when he on Monday named the principal secretary of the prime minister being behind the "political report".

They say that almost similar findings, which had been leaked to some TV channels sometime back, had emerged from the investigation of a civilian intelligence agency into the sugar and wheat crises.

When that report was highlighted by the TV channels, the government was extremely displeased. In a TV interview, Tareen had stated that he was defending his and government’s position in these scams as he has been tasked by the prime minister to do so.

These circles also claim that more heads will roll after the CoI report will be submitted to the premier by March 25.

PTI chief organiser Saifullah Niazi went a step ahead when he warned in a statement that the sugar mills cartel could be taken over by the government if it did not mend its ways. “Those threatening the prime minister with an increase of sugar price to Rs110 per kg are foolish. They must know that their sugar mills can be confiscated by the government. It is high time the Competition Commission of Pakistan fix limit of production of every sugar mill to break the back of cartel.”

Another question that has is being discussed in knowledgeable circles is that what will be reaction of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), which is a coalition partner of the PTI, at the federal and Punjab levels. Its support is very crucial to keep the two governments in place. Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi’s son, Monis Elahi, has also been mentioned in the FIA report as a partner in the RYK Group, which stood on number one for getting the maximum export subsidy.

However, during a chat with The News, Monis Elahi clarified that he has an indirect stake through one of his companies in one of the sugar mills of the RYK Group and has nothing to do with the entire group. He said he was prepared to appear before any investigating agency to speak about his stake.