–Citizens suffer as stoppage of procurement by govt renders utility stores dysfunctional
–Not a single wheat bag at any outlet
LAHORE: Citizens, especially the poor and lower-middle class strata, are suffering due to the acute shortage of daily use products at the utility stores as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government has temporarily suspended operations at the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) and stopped procurement of all commodities.
According to a survey conducted by Pakistan Today, a limited variety of cooking oils is available at the utility stores while there is a shortage of sugar, pulses, wheat flour, syrups, jams etc, which are considered the most essential items to cook meals. The sales officers at the utility stores said that they are sitting idle and selling whatever is available.
Most of the utility stores, including those located in Ayubia Market of New Muslim Town, Garhi Shahu, Shadman and Shahdara, have put up notices stating that sugar, masalas, and drinks are not available.
At one utility store, Sales Officer Salman Ali said his store is selling only a limited supply. “The head office is not supplying items since all kinds of procurement has stopped. We cannot offer anything to customers except whatever is available.”
“The USC godowns are empty and the supplies are limited. The poor people who used to come here go disappointed,” he regretted. “The wheat flour has not available for the last two months which used to be in high demand. It used to be Rs 30-40 cheaper than the original market price.”
USC procurement officer Zeeshan Ahmed said the wheat supply ended soon after the government stopped procurement. He said, “The wheat always came directly from the flour mills. The USC never stores wheat bags at its godowns.”
The procurement officer assured that they were supplying all available items to the utility stores, however, “all procurement at the regional and head offices has been suspended by the government.”
Mirza Ramzan, a customer at Shadman Sunday bazaar, criticised the Imran Khan-led PTI government in centre. He said, “There is no doubt that the situation used to be bad at the utility stores but now it’s worst. You can check here that even pulses are not available. What else should we purchase?”
“The poor people like me used to get wheat flour from here at Rs 20-30 cheaper price than market. Now, they have snatched rooti (bread) from our mouth?”
Another customer Shama Bibi blamed the government for the dearth of commodities at utility stores. “Where should the poor go now? The government should kill all the poor so that it doesn’t have to feed them.”
PROCUREMENT STOPPED BY GOVT:
On August 30, the minister and secretary of industries and production had directed the USC management to stop all kinds of procurements at the regional and head offices immediately until further orders.
The decision to halt procurement was taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Advisor on Industries and Production Abdul Razzaq Dawood as, according to him, the utility stores are embroiled in financial irregularities and had become a loss-making corporation.
The USC provides daily use items to the poor and low-income people at discounted rates. It has 5,500 retail outlets across Pakistan with 14,500 employees.
According to reports, the USC faced a loss to the tune of Rs1.36 billion during the first three months of the financial year 2017-18 and most of the vendors had stopped supplying stocks to the corporation.