ATTOCK: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said that petroleum products prices are still cheaper in Pakistan than the region's other oil importing countries. His remarks came during an address at a ceremony in Attock to lay the foundation stone of Maternal and Child Hospital.
He said that in the aftermath of lockdowns all over the globe to guard against the spread of coronavirus, there were supply shortages, which also extended to oil. He noted that while the commodity's prices were low in the beginning when economies began to slowly resume regular activity, later the prices doubled.
"It (oil) went up from $45 to $85 per barrel," he said, adding when oil prices rise, everything becomes expensive, including freight costs for shipping, import of oil and electricity production which is reliant on oil.
He said imported palm oil, pulses — of which 70 percent are imported — also became dearer. "So naturally, when prices of commodities rose globally, then Pakistan, too, is part of the world. It doesn’t exist on a separate island," the prime minister said. He said the government is working full throttle to relieve the people of the burden of inflationary pressures.
Speaking of the region's countries, he said there is a hue and cry in India, where petrol is Rs250 per litre, and in Bangladesh where it costs Rs200 per litre.
"In Pakistan it now costs Rs146, still the lowest (in the region)," he said. "Petrol is still cheaper in Pakistan than other oil importing countries in the region," the premier followed by saying.
He spoke about the soaring sugar prices in Pakistan, saying that Sindh has shut down three mills all of a sudden that contributed to the hike in the price of the commodity. "The price of sugar in Pakistan has hit Rs140 per kg. I inquired why this was so. I learnt that three sugar mills in Sindh have been shut down," the prime minister said.
The premier said when sugarcane crushing season begins in Pakistan, sugarcane is first taken to sugar mills from Sindh and then from Punjab. He said when the three sugar mills in Sindh have been shut down, there is a sudden drop in supply and then prices rose to Rs140 per kg.
The PM went on to say that he subsequently learnt that due to the reduced supply, the sugar mills in Punjab began to hoard the commodity. "I told the chief secretary that our law forbids hoarding and so if the sugar mills are doing so, we must retrieve the stock and bring it out to the market so the price drops,” he noted.
"We found out that since July, the sugar mills have obtained a stay order against the rule. And so our government was unable to do anything," PM Imran Khan said. Imran Khan said that it was further discovered that the Competition Commission of Pakistan had charged the mills with fines worth Rs40 billion after they were found to have hoarded sugar through cartelisation. "They obtained a stay order against that too," he said, visibly vexed.
PM Imran Khan, in further criticism of the sugar mills, said that they had gone so far as to even obtain stay orders against the Rs500 billion in taxes that they were charged by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) for selling sugar "off books", which was discovered by the Sugar Commission that conducted a probe into the country's recent sugar crisis.
The prime minister instructed Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, the law minister and the advocate general to immediately have the stay orders vacated. "This is gross injustice that the sugar mafia earns billions after having broken the backs of our people. And when the government moves to do something, they obtain stay orders," he remarked.
PM Imran Khan earlier discussed his government's long-term vision for the country. He said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had a coalition government in 2013 and got a two-thirds majority in 2018, attributing the vote of confidence to the lives of the common people improving in the province.
The premier referenced a survey by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which acknowledged in a reduction in poverty in KP between 2013 and 2018. "Five years down the line, one will be able to accurately judge whether or not poverty has reduced in the country," he said.
The prime minister said that now, after 50 years, Pakistan is witnessing three big dams being built, adding that in 10 years, 10 dams will be built. "This is the first government in 50 years that is thinking of the next generation," PM Imran Khan said.
"We have brought a mandate of five years, not two or three years," he said, while censuring past governments of only thinking about the next polls half-way into their tenures. The premier said that if the lives of the people improve in the next five years, he will consider himself successful.
He listed bringing about a wide range of improvements in other areas, such as the environment with 2.5 billion trees being planted for the betterment of the next generation and the improving of national parks, and the government's health insurance schemes.
PM Imran Khan vowed to provide "every citizen" with health insurance. "In Western countries, you have to pay for insurance," he said. According to the premier, Punjab is spending Rs330bn to provide health insurance to every citizen, while health insurance has been given to all families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. By March, every family in Punjab will also have the health insurance card, said the prime minister.
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