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July 4, 2020

Sugar again

Editorial

 
July 4, 2020

The sugar scam report appears to have become a never-ending saga as the government seems to be trying to divert the focus to some sugar mills in Sindh. The federal government has been reluctant to take action against those accused who are directly or indirectly connected with some government ministers and their allies. The result is a failure to take any major step in this matter and the courts are doing their bit to dispense justice. On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan refused to suspend the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) interim order restraining the federal authorities from taking action against nearly 20 sugar mills of Sindh on the basis of the report of a sugar inquiry commission. The commission itself has become controversial as it was led by the head of the FIA. Apparently the government formed this commission to probe a sudden shortage of sugar resulting in a sharp increase in its prices in January. Initially the commission report released in April was very clear that some sugar mills belonging to the country’s top politicians were among the major beneficiaries of this artificially created crisis in the country.

But then the government rather than taking immediate action against the accused tried to procrastinate by going into a forensic audit, which took another month or so. The forensic report was issued on May 21 and it clearly mentioned that sugar mill owners earned illegal profits amounting to billions of rupees. The mill owners amassed this fortune by unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, and tax evasion. The forensic report also highlighted that the owners had indulged in misuse of subsidy and purchase of sugarcane off the book. That report was challenged by the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) in the Islamabad High Court (IHC). The IHC restrained the government from taking action against the sugar mills when the mill owners promised to sell sugar on reduced prices. But they were unable or unwilling to do so and the IHC dismissed the plea by the PSMA. Then in response to an appeal, the SHC sprung to action and stopped the federal authorities from taking action against around 20 sugar mills of Sindh.

When the federal government challenged the SHC order in the Supreme Court, the apex court refused to suspend the SHC interim order till the next hearing. A major problem with the commission was that it did not listen to the sugar mill owners and claimed that it was just a fact-finding commission. First, the government should clean its own stable by removing all tainted allies and ministers from government posts, even if an action against sugar mills is pending. And second, there should be a thorough inquiry into the AG’s statement about how the CCP, FBR, and SECP, have been captured or influenced by powerful commercial lobbies. If that is true, the people of Pakistan would like to know what is being done or planned to correct this situation.