- Conflict of interest has to be removed
It goes to the credit of the present PTI government that it has released the investigation report by the FIA into the wheat and sugar shortages which caused such outrage when these crises occurred recently. Prime Minister’s initial rejection of the report and demand that it be re-written had created the fear that perhaps the powerful were once again being protected, but the report shows that the initial speculations had been shown to be true. While the report said that the wheat shortage was because of failures by the Sindh, Punjab and Federal governments to meet their production targets, the separately published report on the Sugar crisis has pointed the finger at a number of sugar manufacturers who received vast sums in taxpayers’ money as a subsidy to export the commodity. The list includes some names prominent within the PTI, such as former Secretary-General of the party Mr Jehangir Tareen, Federal Minister Makhdum Khusro Bakhtiyar whose extended family business has cropped up on the list and allies such as PML-Q’s Moonis Elahi.
Claims by the PTI, that the subsidies paid were according to the rules, does not explain why those with an interest should be involved in the administration and drafting of policy in the first place. This has been the case in past governments as well, where members of the sugar lobby took over the commanding heights of the government. Indeed, one of the criticisms by Prime Minister Imran Khan of Nawaz Sharif was the mixing of business with politics. It seems that the PTI is no different, at least as far as the sugar lobby is concerned. This episode shows that not having a conflict of interest will not keep the Prime Minister out of trouble, if his closest confidants do. It has to be noted however that much of the focus of the report and is on the export of sugar, on the basis of which most of the conclusions have been made. This does not fully explain the domestic shortage, which is the actual purpose of the investigation to begin with. The report also does not place any responsibility of the shortage on the ECC, which approves the export of sugar. Such inquiries would plug some holes in the report as well.
Cleaning up the Cabinet and the upper echelons of the PTI by making members choose between business and politics is essential to make sure such incidents are not repeated. The government must also ensure that there is no attempt to restrict the investigation to just the publication of the FIA’s report, rather it should be taken to its logical end.