Investigators quiz Punjab CM Buzdar about sugar subsidy

Sindh CM refuses to appear before FIA DG-led commission

Sindh CM refuses to appear before FIA DG-led commission. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on Wednesday appeared before the commission probing into the sugar crisis in the country in a discreet visit to the Federal Investigation Agency headquarters and recorded his statement, sources told The Express Tribune.

The chief minister brought to the FIA headquarters from its back entrance instead of the front gate.

The sources said the FIA authorities tried their best to the keep the visit secret from the media.

Responding to the FIA Director General Wajid Zia-led commission’s queries, Buzdar presented his stance on the subsidy given on sugar export.

The Punjab chief minister was also asked about the transfer of food department secretaries and other officials.

The sources said Buzdar was unable to respond to some questions.

Foolproof security arrangements were made for the Punjab chief minister’s visit by the provincial security squads as well as the federal police.

The service road behind the FIA headquarters was closed for traffic for around 45 minutes. Buzdar was later escorted back to the Punjab House.

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However, unlike his Punjab counterpart, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has refused to appear before the commission.

The Sindh advocate general wrote a letter to the FIA director general informing him that the commission could not summon the chief minister under its own terms of reference.

Summoning the chief minister is in violation of Section 3 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017, he added.

The FIA director general had written a letter to Shah on May 11 asking him to appear before the commission at the agency’s headquarters in Islamabad on May 13.

The Sindh chief minister was informed in the letter that the commission wanted to ask him some questions about the additional subsidy granted to sugar mills in the fiscal year 2017-18.

On Tuesday, Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar also appeared before the commission 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.

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.

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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 the 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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