ISLAMABAD: The PM’s aide on accountability on Saturday accused PML-N Senior Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of repeatedly “lying” about the findings of an FIA-led inquiry commission on the sugar crisis in the country.
“It [the commission’s forensic report] explicitly states that when the export of sugar was allowed in 2018-19 [by the PTI-led federal government, there was excess quantity of sugar in the country and the export of surplus stock was permitted,” Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar said at a news conference.
Abbasi had earlier claimed that as per the commission’s findings, the federal government allowed the export of sugar even though there were no surplus stocks of the sweetener in the country.
“The commission is of the view that it is correct that the country was in need of foreign exchange and there were prima facie sufficient stocks of sugar available for export,” the PM’s aide said quoting a paragraph in the report.
“If he [Abassi] had read the commission's report, he wouldn’t have said that sugar prices increase because of the permission to export it.”
The SAPM said Prime Minister Imran Khan had not granted any subsidy. “The prime minister had only allowed the export of sugar.”
To Abbasi’s claim that the commission was only supposed to determine the reasons behind the sugar price hike, the SAPM said the inquiry body had 12 or 13 terms of reference and it had to respond to all of them.
“The commission summoned the Sindh chief minister but he did not appear before it. The Punjab chief minister appeared before the commission and so did Asad Umar who was the finance minister at that time.”
He added that market manipulation and financial speculation in connivance with mill owners were the real reasons behind the sugar price hike.
“The commission’s report is actually a charge-sheet against Shahid Khaqan Abbasi,” Akbar maintained, reiterating what he had said in an earlier news conference.
The SAPM noted that during 2017-18 when Abbasi was the premier, there was sufficient sugarcane production and the country had up to 3 million metric tonnes surplus stock of the sweetener. "We know sugarcane crushing starts from November and completes by February or March," Akbar noted.
The commission noted that during that time, the international market sugar price was $577 per ton and there was no need to grant subsidy if the export of surplus stock sugar was allowed.
“But at that time, permission was given to export 300,000 metric tonnes of sugar when the price in the international market was much higher,” Akbar added.
“Without determining cost of production of sugar, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi gave a subsidy of Rs20 billion to the industry to export sugar.”
The SAPM said Abbasi was unable to provide any answer or document before the commission.
He further maintained that the Al-Arabia Sugar Mills, owned by PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif’s son Salman Shehbaz, was involved in several malpractices.
“There is a need to pursue cases till the end so that recoveries from big plunderers could be ensured. The current government will pursue sugar crisis matter till end.”
The SAPM said it was misperception that no major recoveries had been made so far.
"The National Accountability Bureau is an independent institution and it is the job of the government to extend support to it."
To a question, he said it was very important that the audit of all sugar mills was carried out.
To another query he said: "Whoever is caught, they claim that they are being victimised."
Separately, Communications and Postal Services Minister Murad Saeed in response to Abbasi’s claims said those involved in several malpractices including the LNG case and the sugar crisis were lecturing the current government now.
He was referring to a NAB reference against Abbasi and nine others for allegedly misusing powers in the LNG import agreement, causing a loss of Rs47 billion to the national exchequer.
“Abbasi sahib has probably forgotten that Pakistan has changed and you can no longer hide your malpractices,” Murad added.
“He [Abbasi] will be held answerable not only for the LNG case, but also for the sugar crisis.”
Murad further maintained that the inquiry commission had exposed the previous rulers just as the Panama joint investigation team had revealed their malpractices. He also claimed that the PML-N leaders had run out of answers to defend themselves.
“The commission has disclosed how Abbasi sahib has been protecting the interests of the Sharif family.”