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October 18, 2020

Punjab gets sixth food secretary amid rising wheat, sugar prices

Top Story

October 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab administration has appointed its sixth food secretary amid persisting increases in the prices of wheat and sugar, despite the import of the two important commodities.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has now ordered the replacement of Food Secretary Asad Rehman Gilani, an officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), after just 90 days. Sheheryar Sultan, who is the scion of a political family associated with the ruling party, has taken his place. He is a nephew of Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan from Jhang and belongs to the Sultan Bahu clan of Garh Maharaja. Sheheryar Sultan is also the son-in-law of former Punjab Governor Shahid Hamid, whose brother Zahid Hamid is associated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). His uncle Mehboob Sultan was the federal food minister and was replaced when the wheat and sugar scandals surfaced early this year.

The previous five food secretaries were Shaukat Ali, Naseem Sadiq, who had a tenure of two months, Zafar Nasarullah, who stayed in office for just three months, Waqas Mehmood, who is the son-in-law of former chief election commissioner Justice (retd) Raza Khan and had a tenure of eight months, and Asad Rehman Gilani, who worked in this position for three months. Civil servants have become the main scapegoats following the consistent rise in prices of wheat flour and sugar. The price of wheat flour has gone up to Rs2,400 per 40 kg and the price of one kg of sugar presently stands at Rs110.

An official told The News that the prime minister is also displeased with the federal food ministry bureaucracy and has voiced strong displeasure at their performance in cabinet and Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) meetings for messing up wheat and sugar imports. “The federal food secretary, appointed just two months back, has been put on notice as well,” said the official.

Additional food secretary Anwar Bukhari was sidelined last week and replaced by Ayub Chaudhry, who had previously been shifted out from this ministry on the complaints of businessmen and certain ministers.

The Wajid Zia inquiry committee on the wheat scam had cited frequent transfers in the food department on political grounds as a major reason for the mismanagement in Punjab.

The report had pointed out that the inefficiency of the food department was the primary factor that had led to the price hikes and subsequent shortage of wheat flour in the country. The procurement failure triggered a chain of events that ultimately led to the wheat controversy. The administrative mismanagement, including frequent transfers and postings and the poor handling of the wheat supply management chain, further contributed to the problem originally created by the management failure, it said.

According to the report, the committee perused the record and interviewed the former and current chief secretaries of Punjab. During the current crop, four different secretaries headed the Punjab food department who had resorted to massive postings and transfers. One of them issued such orders for 35 district food controllers (DFCs) while another posted or transferred nine deputy directors and changed 32 DFCs during his tenure. They told the committee that due to the ban on postings and transfers, the shifting orders were made only with the chief minister’s approval. It was acknowledged that some DFCs who had been posted on political considerations had to be removed due to their poor performance and reputation. The committee was informed that several transfers and postings were ordered on the verbal directions of the chief minister. No reasons were given for such orders.

According to the report, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar admitted to the committee that persons with political backing regularly approach him for transfers and postings. Most of these transfers and postings were carried out on proposals initiated by the concerned secretary while some were accommodated only after the input of the special branch of the police was taken, he told the committee.