KARACHI: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Thursday demanded Prime Minister Imran Khan and the federal cabinet be held accountable for approving the export of sugar and freight subsidy of Rs2 billion.
Advisor to the Chief Minister on Law Syed Murtaza Wahab and Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah held a press conference on Thursday to answer corruption allegations by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar on Wednesday.
“There are various problems with the TORs of the commission,” he said. “The name of the chief minister who was to be summoned, his name has not been included. The prime minister who approved sugar subsidies, his name has also not been mentioned,” said Shah.
Referring to PTI leaders Khusro Bakhtiar and Jahangir Tareen being the “talk of the town” these days, the information minister said that their sugar mills received the lion’s share of the subsidies.
“More than 84% of the sugar subsidy was given [by Sindh government] to sugar mills of Jahangir Tareen and Khusro Bakhtiar and other people,” he underlined. “This subsidy was given because sugar mills had sugar in ample quantities hence they did not want to start the crushing season,” said Shah, adding that subsidies were given to the sugar mills to encourage them to export their excess sugar and buy the commodity from local farmers.
“This subsidy is given and other benefits when the demand for sugar is low in the international market,” he noted. Shah lashed out at the government, wondering why the price of sugar had soared to Rs80 per kilogramme during the PTI government’s tenure.
Murtaza Wahab thanked the federal government for issuing the sugar inquiry commission report after which it was possible to ascertain that the prime minister himself gave the approval for the commodity to be exported.
“The subsidy was given to 26 sugar mills in Sindh,” he said. “The subsidy was granted in an impartial manner and the purpose behind it was to protect the interests of our sugar growers,” he said, adding that in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Sindh government did not give any subsidy to the sugarcane sector.
He said that the prices of sugar had not only stabilised but also dropped when Sindh government provided the subsidy to mills. “The benefit was availed by the sugar growers and the consumer who bought sugar [due to the low prices],” he said.
Wahab said that the commission formed by the prime minister to probe the sugar price hike did not summon Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. “The sugar prices quoted in the report are from the year 2019. As I said before, Sindh government does not have anything to do with this matter as it did not issue any sugar subsidy in 2018, 2019 and 2020,” he said.
Reading from the sugar inquiry commission report, Wahab pointed out that the commission had found out that the prime minister approved the export of 1.1 million tonnes of sugar and the Rs2bn subsidy on freight as well.
“This is not me saying this. This is not the Sindh government saying this. These are the findings of the commission formed by the federal government,” he said.
The federal government believes in bad intentions. It wanted to save the prime minister and the cabinet hence, in an attempt to divert the issue, they went into the past,” observed Wahab, adding that for a transparent inquiry to take place, the prime minister should be asked why he allowed sugar to be exported which ultimately caused its price hike and approved freight subsidy of Rs2bn.
Wahab and Shah were responding to a hard-hitting press conference by Shahzad Akbar from Wednesday in which, looping in the government of Sindh, he had said that the provincial government gave the most benefit to Omni Group through subsidies, which had been opposed by the provincial cabinet.
“The chief minister of Punjab appeared in front of the sugar inquiry commission but the chief minister of Sindh did not,” he had said. “The [PTI] government will take homogeneous action against our party and others named in the report.”
“Maybe some of our friends did not read the report properly. Perhaps the Opposition didn’t understand it as the report is in English and lengthy,” Akbar said.
“Audit matters have been reviewed in the report,” he noted, adding that a very important portion in it was the amount of subsidy given by PML-N and specifically by Abbasi.
Subsidies were given due to “mismanagement in determining the production prices”, he said.