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July 2, 2020

The cost of inaction

Business

July 2, 2020

LAHORE: Opposition has rightly pointed out that the nation has seen the prime minister taking notice of any irregularity pointed out by the media. In some cases he formed investigating commissions; however, the irregularities remained unaddressed despite pinpointing culprits.

Numerous irregularities and frauds occurred during the tenure of this government that assumed power on the promise of executing the corrupt. However, no concrete action has been taken against these most recent glaring irregularities against persons belonging to the ruling party.

As against this the government and NAB is overactive in a 29 years old property case against the head of Jang Group Mir Shakeel Ur Rehman. Where is NAB in most recent cases of sugar scandal, wheat hoarding, and engineered petrol shortages?

NAB is finding it impossible to bring any evidence against Jang Group head, but the proof of wrongdoings in the recent sugar, wheat, and petrol cases are documented in the reports authored by the government constituted commissions.

Moreover, the alleged loss to the exchequer in Mir Shakeel case is in millions, while the illegal profit (proven not alleged) is to the tune of hundreds of billions of rupees in the sugar, wheat, and petrol cases.

The sugar scandal was unearthed three months back that took the sugar prices from Rs52 in October 2019 before sugar export was allowed to Rs90 per kg by March 2020. The culprits who benefitted from this scandal were identified in the first report.

The issue was unusual increase in local sugar rates after the sugar industry was allowed to export over one million ton of sugar on the assurance that there would be no sugar shortage in the country and the rates would remain stable.

The culprits were let off in the name of a more comprehensive report dating back to tenures of past governments. The purpose was to malign the past regimes as well.

It is interesting to note that whenever sugar exports were permitted by the previous regimes it did not impact the retail price of the sweetener in the country. This time around sugar rates skyrocketed after export was allowed.

So sugar rate was the actual issue and the commission clearly ignored the fault of the Ministry of Commerce that remained a silent spectator, while sugar prices started increasing immediately after the export of sugar started.

The commission instead pointed out numerous irregularities in sugar sector regime from procurement of sugarcane to its recovery rate and concealment of sales tax or taking rebate without executing exports.

The real issue of sugar price increase remains in the background, while other issues are in highlighted. Moreover, sugar prices have not come down after the report was made public and the prime minister took ‘strict notice’, ordering prices to be brought down.

Wheat shortages were witnessed a little before harvesting of wheat crop in Punjab and during its harvest in Sindh. As the prices started rising, the prime minister again formed a commission.

The commission in its report pointed fingers at some influential figures of the ruling party and its allies accusing them of hoarding and the bureaucracy of mismanagement. The federal minister accused in wheat scandal was assigned another ministry.

Wheat shortages in the meanwhile continued even though the country harvested a surplus wheat crop. Where has the wheat gone?

No raids were conducted to confiscate the hoarded wheat.

The result is that today consumers are buying their staple food at record high price. The instructions of the prime minister to bring down the prices of wheat were ignored.

The government then unnecessarily decreased the prices of petroleum products based on the prices of crude oil in a period when no crude oil finished petroleum products were imported. The consumption has nosedived in Pakistan due to lockdown.

The private sector oil marketing companies having imported oil at a high rate stopped the supplies leaving it to the public sector Pakistan State Oil to bear the burden of supplying oil at lower than its cost.

It lost billions of rupees in the process. The oil marketing companies are duty bound to keep certain stocks round the year and they had those stocks, but they did not release them in the market.

The day government announced massive increase in rates of petroleum products, the market was flooded with petrol and diesel and there was no shortage proving that the petrol was hoarded for profiteering.

Again the prime minister promised exemplary punishment to the erring oil marketing companies. The maximum fine slapped on them was Rs50 million, whereas hoarding enabled these companies to earn billions of rupees when prices increased.