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April 8, 2020

Inquiry report into sugar scam: Demands voiced to NAB to take up scandal


April 8, 2020

News Analysis

By Tariq Butt

ISLAMABAD: Dozens of actors played a key role in the sanction of subsidy for sugar export and its massive price surge that heavily burdened the consumers.

They included the chairman of the sugar advisory board; the federal finance minister, who chaired the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), the prime minister and his cabinet that endorsed the ECC decision, the secretaries of national food security, industries and commerce, the Punjab chief minister and his cabinet; the provincial ministers for finance and food; the Punjab secretaries of food and finance, the cane commissioner and sugar mills owners and businessmen, who exported sugar and benefited from price hike or got subsidy.

Of them, the public office holders wielded power and authority to take these decisions including allowing export and sanctioning subsidy.

Influential and political circles have demanded of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to take up the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report or subsequent findings of the Commission of Inquiry for probe and trial of the accused, if any. The NAB chairman has powers under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 to assume jurisdiction of any case irrespective of the fact that it is being investigated or inquired into by the FIA or any other agency.

Experts and senior civil servants, who have been dealing with the NAB law, its evolution and practices over the years say there are two key actors in the report of the Wajid Zia committee.

One, the public office holders, who decided the policies regarding export of sugar after Oct 2018, and brought about a programme and policy of procuring subsidy to encourage and facilitate export.

According to NAB law experts, the second principal players as per FIA committee findings are the sugar mill owners and businessmen who exported sugar and benefited from the price increase in domestic market and some also got export subsidy as an added benefit.

As per the NAO, the offenses are defined under its Section 9, called “corrupt practices”, which focuses on “public office holders” and their associates”

Secondly, the policy of the present NAB chairman has been to not go after “businessmen”, if they have legally made profits but to leave such matters to tax authorities and Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

Experts say that in this matter as inquired by the FIA committee, the whole issue of huge spike in prices that surged in the domestic market was triggered by the government decision to allow export of one million tons of sugar in spite of the fact that domestic produce was less while some many bureaucratic officeholders like the secretaries of commerce and food security advised against such decision.

The NAB law and courts have defined such decision making as abuse of authority. The decision to export a huge quantity of sugar (almost 20 percent of national production) was made on basis of considerations, which did not prove to be beneficial to the public interest.

Going by the precedents wherein the NAB had no evidence of corruption, wrongful gain or assets beyond means, it took action against public officeholders on the basis of alleged abuse of authority. The glaring examples of alleged abuse of authority being treated as corrupt practices there are recruitment cases filed by the NAB against Raja Pervez Asharaf, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Saradar Mehtab, Narowal Sports Complex case against Ahsan Iqbal, and Ashiana Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar cases against Shahbaz Sharif.

Legal experts say the findings of FIA committee land the present public officeholders having roles in sugar export decision and grant of subsidy in the mischief of abuse of authority, falling in the definition of corrupt practice as specified in Section 9.

The decision to export caused surge in sugar price, forcing the general public to pay on average of Rs15-20 per kg more, as per the inquiry report.

Section 9 says if a public officeholder misuses his authority so as to gain any benefit or favour for himself or any other person, or renders or attempts to render or willfully fails to exercise his authority to prevent the grant, or rendition of any undue benefit or favour which he could have prevented by exercising his authority; if he has issued any directive, policy, or any SRO (Statutory Regulatory Order) or any other order which grants or attempts to grant any undue concession or benefit in any taxation matter or law or otherwise so as to benefit himself or any relative or associate or a benamidar or any other person; he is punishable under the NAB law.