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November 29, 2020

Imports fiasco

Editorial

 
November 29, 2020

The mismanagement and delay in the import of LNG, sugar, and wheat has cost the country at least Rs550 billion losses, according to investigative reports by Geo TV's Shahzeb Khanzada, who has closely followed the issue. Other economists have agreed with his assessment of the problem and to the question of why the PTI government delayed imports for so long. This is the real question.

In the case of LNG, importing the commodity during the summer could have saved many billions of rupees for the country and given it enough LNG to use over the winter. The matter of sugar is even more complicated. The prime minister himself had said in February this year that, given the expected shortfall, sugar would be imported. However, this did not take place, leading to mill owners buying up the entire stock in the country, and thereby leading to raised prices. Obviously, for ordinary people this has been a disaster. The case of wheat flour was not that different, with the surplus initially expected during the year never occurring and the matter of importing wheat delayed for way too long. The excuse offered up was that imports were not possible due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, other countries have been able to make these imports despite the virus. As such, there was no reason why Pakistan should not have been able to do the same.

The most important factor for the PTI is to develop policies that can ensure that people are not made to suffer anymore. This has been the chief grievance of ordinary people with the government. Again and again, there have been sharp rises in prices even though there is currently an indication of a minor fall in the rates of some items, but the price hike experienced through much of the year has left households devastated. Rs550 billion is a very large amount; the government needs to explain why it did not act to prevent such massive losses, which could have been avoided simply by making purchases from other countries in time. It is also untrue that climatic conditions led to a shortfall in wheat and in sugarcane production given that India was able to produce a greater volume of both these items, going by percentage, even though climatic conditions and the Covid-19 crisis process were precisely the same. The PTI government needs to learn from its mistakes. Repeating the same issues and making the same errors in its third year would lead to more havoc and another rise in prices could easily bring people on to the streets – especially at a time when the opposition is all geared up to counter the government. More price hikes must be avoided and now is the time that the prime minister insists on being informed of developments at every point, so that the right decisions can be made and followed up on.