Asad Umar questioned on ECC’s sugar export decision

The Federal Planning and Development minister appears before probe body, says report will be out soon


​ Our Correspondent May 12, 2020
Minister appears before probe body, says report will be out soon PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD: Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar on Tuesday appeared before the FIA Director General Wajid Zia-led commission probing into the sugar crisis in the country and responded to its queries about the Economic Coordination Committee’s (ECC) decision to allow the export of the sweetener even though there were no surplus stocks.

Umar was the finance minister at the time when the ECC had approved the export of the commodity. The meetings of the forum are chaired by the finance minister.

Speaking to reporters after appearing before the commission, Umar said he had informed the commission about the ECC’s decision.

“I was first given the chance to present my stance on the matter and was then asked questions,” he added.

The [forensic] report of the commission will be made public soon and Prime Minister Imran Khan will not disappoint the nation.”

The minister further said the report would reveal as to why the prices of sugar had increased even though there was no shortage of the commodity in the country.

“The report will disclose if sugar was smuggled out of the country or not.”

The minister had requested the commission to summon him instead of the prime minister after PML-N Senior Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi appeared before the body and demanded that it should question the premier and the then finance minister about why the federal cabinet and the ECC had approved the export of sugar when there were not surplus stocks in the country.

Umar was of the view that the cabinet had made the decision on the recommendation of the ECC and that was why he, not the premier, was answerable to the inquiry commission.

The ECC is chaired by the finance minister, but the law grants the power to delegate authority and not responsibility. The ultimate responsibility of the decisions taken by the ECC lies with the prime minister.

Last month, the government went public with the findings of the inquiry committee tasked with probing into the sugar crisis.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had pledged not to spare those found guilty of creating and profiting off the sugar and wheat crises once he received the detailed forensic reports of the commission’s preliminary findings on April 25. Later, the commission was given three more weeks to submit the reports.

The prime minister had formed two high-powered committees headed by the FIA director general and comprising a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau and the director general of the Anti-Corruption Establishment of Punjab to investigate the causes behind the wheat and sugar crises and price hike of the two commodities.

In its 32-page report, the committee on sugar price hike termed PTI government’s decision to allow export of sugar unjustified as it caused a 30% increase in its price.

“The exporters of sugar gained benefit in two ways: first they were able to gain subsidy and secondly, they made profit from the increasing sugar prices in the local market,” according to the inquiry committee.

The report revealed that PTI’s former secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen and former national food security minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar were among the main beneficiaries.

Both stalwarts of the PTI went away with a Rs1.03 billion subsidy on the export of sugar, paid from taxpayers’ money, which was equal to 41% of the total subsidy the government of Punjab paid to sugar barons, according to the report.

“Sugar mill owners who availed maximum subsidy had political clout and influence in decision making and they tried to gain maximum benefit in a very limited time,” revealed the report

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