Monday January 30, 2023

Bitter taste

By Editorial Board
November 07, 2021

The price of sugar recorded in the markets on Saturday has demonstrated the extent of the government’s complete failure to manage sugar prices in the country. Even in Utility Stores, few can purchase it at the set price and to obtain even one bag of sugar people have to line up for hours and are often told that stocks have run out so no more is available at the control price. Reports also say retailers are often the first in the queues, buying the sugar at the price set for Utility Stores and then selling it at a much higher rate the nation is being forced to purchase this vital commodity at. There is no official mechanism in place to control the price for sugar at retail or wholesale levels. There are reports that local stocks are drying up, triggering a speculative pressure that pushes the price up. The people of Pakistan have been paying inflated rates for the past couple of years and whenever the PM takes ‘notice’ of this situation there is likely to be variation in price for a fleeting moment before it goes sky high again. PM Imran Khan’s own Sugar Commission had put out figures which showed how much sugar in the country was produced by mills owned by the families of Jehangir Tarin and Khusro Bakhtiar, both senior members of the PTI. This then is a massive failure for the government and, whereas

members of government had initially acknowledged it, they are now ominously silent.

We are also unclear as to what the policy is regarding the import and export of sugar with neither of the two interactions going very well as far as the price hike is concerned. The purpose of bringing in more sugar into the country was to force down prices. This has not worked. The support price per maund for sugarcane has been set on the demand of farmers at Rs265 this year. But even so the sugar is reaching buyers at exorbitant rates which few can afford.

The government has been blaming sugar millers for the scam and for holding major portions of declared stocks but has done little to address the situation or apprehend the culprits. Then the government also says that there is a group of dealers responsible for rigging the market. But all the protestations by the ministers and other officials are not helping the consumers who desperately need some succor. If the steep hike is the result of a scam as the government keeps reiterating, the citizens of Pakistan would like to know what the government has done to stem it. The excuse that the government cannot forcibly lift stocks from sugar mills makes little sense. The prime minister has suggested that the courts had delivered a verdict against state actions against the hoarding of sugar. The court has made it clear that its actions were intended to stop hoarding. We desperately need clarity. The government should have understood the realities of the market in the past nearly three and half years it has been in power. Being novices is not a pretext as many ministers in the PTI-led government are experienced politicians and technocrats who have had vast opportunities to learn. There is an impending administrative and market collapse that the federal government is oblivious about. The government must take immediate administrative steps to rectify the situation and plan for another possible sugar crisis which is in the offing.