- Sugar Enquiry Commission’s scope expanded
The retail price of sugar in the market from December 2018 to February 2020 had increased by Rs 24 per kilogram. The sugar mills owners pocketed more than Rs 76 billion due to this unchecked price hike. This huge amount was in addition to Rs 3 billion subsidy by the Punjab government.
This led the opposition to demand an enquiry. In February the PM was forced to appoint a high-powered committee led by DG FIA tasked to investigate into the recent upsurge in prices of sugar. The report submitted in April left the government red faced as it exposed two main groups led by personalities closely associated with the ruling party who had obtained maximum benefit from the sugar crisis. The next day PM Imran Khan sent the report back to DG FIA avowedly for a detailed forensic probe. What appears now is that the real aim was to extend the focus of the probe to drag in those associated with the opposition also to perform a balancing act.
Way back in December 2018, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet presided over by Federal Minister Asad Umar had allowed sugar millers to export 1.1 million tons of sugar by waiving conditions that a cabinet body had imposed just two prior. Appearing before the Sugar Enquiry Commission, Mr. Umar defended the decision on flimsy grounds that even failed to impress the Commission. These included, the country being in dire need of foreign exchange and sufficient stocks of sugar being available in the country. He also defended the subsidy given by the Punjab government to sugar exporters. SAPM on Commerce Razzak Dawood too strongly defended the decision to export. The Punjab CM falsely claimed that the subsidy was granted by the Federal Cabinet despite the minutes of the Punjab cabinet meeting showing otherwise. Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bakhtiyar whose family owns one of the sugar mills mentioned in the report has not even received a slap on the wrist. If anybody is to be held responsible for exporting sugar and providing subsidies, it is the PTI’s own leaders and officials rather than those who benefitted from their decisions.
The expansion of the focus helped PTI’s propaganda team to create confusion by blaming Sindh CM who last time gave subsidy in 2018 and was not even remotely responsible for the sugar crisis 2019-20. Similarly the Al-Arabia Sugar mill owned by the Sharifs did not reportedly export sugar in 2019-20.