ISLAMABAD - Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar Wednesday appeared before the Inquiry Commission on sugar and wheat scams and recorded his statement regarding the subsidies given to sugar mills and the shortage of wheat in the country.
On the other hand, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah did not appear before the Inquiry Commission despite the fact that he was also summoned by the commission for Wednesday on the issue of subsidy granted by the Sindh government in 2017-18 on export of sugar in addition to the subsidy allowed by the federal government during the period.
Earlier this week, the commission headed by Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Wajid Zia had summoned chief executive of the provinces to finalize the investigation on 2019’s sugar and wheat crises in the country.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s chief minister answered questions of the commission regarding his government’s decision to give subsidies to mills in Punjab on the export of sugar and the management of the Punjab Food Department that caused wheat shortage and skyrocketing prices of flour in the country, official sources in FIA informed The Nation.
Earlier, the Inquiry Committee on sugar crisis in its final report had said that Punjab government during 2019 allowed subsidy of Rs 5.35 per kg on sugar and a total amount of Rs 3 billion was allocated on the export of sugar. “Hence, only the sugar mills of Punjab were entitled to subsidy this year for period from 1st October 2018 to 20th February 2020,” the report said adding that Punjab government had withdrawn the subsidy on May 24, 2019 in the wake of increasing price of sugar in the market.
The Inquiry Committee in its separate report on wheat and flour shortages in the country had said that Punjab Food Department delayed procurement of wheat by crucial 20-22 days and ultimately failed to meet its procurement target by 0.67 million tonnes less in a year where its carry forward sock of food staple remained the lowest during the last five years.
“Punjab Food Department failed to exercise control on flour mills which resorted to profiteering campaign as they sensed that (Punjab) government was ill-prepared to handle the wheat demand and supply chain,” the investigation said.
Describing other reasons of wheat and flour shortages, the investigation report said that Punjab government resorted to erratic transfers in its food department including posting and transfer of four food secretaries and of nearly all district food controllers (DFCs) thrice during the year. “Punjab Food Department allowed, with tacit approval, the poultry feed mills to purchase huge quantities of wheat from private market.”
The government through a cabinet decision had expanded the scope of the Inquiry Committee to an Inquiry Commission under the powers given by Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act 2017. The federal government had tasked the commission to submit its final report till April 25 but the cabinet later gave three weeks extension to it at its own request.
On Tuesday, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar had appeared before the commission to explain decision of sugar export taken by him as then finance minister and head of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC).
He in a statement had said that Prime Minister Imran Khan was not answerable to the Inquiry Commission as the cabinet had made decision to export the commodity on the recommendations of the then ECC.
Last week, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had urged the commission to include Prime Minister Imran Khan and the then finance minister and chairman ECC Asad Umar in the probe.
Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah did not appear before the Inquiry Commission on Wednesday. In a letter written to the DG FIA, the Advocate General Sindh Salman Talibuddin said that commission should immediately withdraw its request asking CM Sindh to appear before it as this doesn’t fall under its jurisdiction.
Sindh CM though the Advocate General said that the issue doesn’t fall within the terms of reference, set out in the Ministry of Interior’s earlier notification, to carry out the investigation.
“As such, the request doesn’t comply with Section 3 (3) of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017 and warrants immediate withdrawal,” the letter reads.