Govt ‘free’ to take action against sugar mills: SAPM

Shahzad Akbar says cabinet has already approved a strategy in wake of January sugar crisis


Our Correspondent July 17, 2020
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Barrister Mirza Shahzad Akbar addressing a press conference in Islamabad on July 17, 2020. PHOTO: PID

ISLAMABAD:

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar has said the federal government is committed to starting a crackdown against sugar mafia once high courts decide the petitions filed against a sugar inquiry commission and its reports.

“The government has also sent a reference to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate misappropriation in subsidies given to sugar mills according to NAB Ordinance 1999,” Akbar said on Friday while addressing a press conference.

Talking with reference to the sugar crisis that emerged earlier this year and the ‘impartial’ sugar inquiry commission that the government formed to probe into it, Akbar said the sugar mills tried to stop a government crackdown by challenging the commission and its reports in high courts.

“The Islamabad High Court (IHC) declared the commission legal but the Sindh High Court (SHC) stopped the government agencies from acting against the sugar mills in Sindh.

“However, now the Supreme Court has recently set aside the SHC’s stay order and ordered the SHC and IHC division bench [which is hearing sugar mills intra-court appeal] to dispose of the cases in three week. The government is waiting for the court to issue their verdicts,” he said.

According to the SAPM, the government has directed the provincial governments, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) to investigate violations by sugar mills in accordance with their rules and report within a period of 90 days.

“The CCP would probe last 10 years cartelization in the sugar industry, the SBP will investigate sugar mills willful loan defaults and pledged sugar stocks according to their rules. The FIA will probe into fake export of sugar to Afghanistan and report within 90 days.

“The provincial governments have been asked to probe violations by sugar mills including paying less price of sugarcane to farmers and other violations. The delay in action against sugar mills is due to litigation against punitive actions,” he said.

He said the federal cabinet had approved a strategy to deal with the sugar crisis after receiving sugar inquiry commission reports. This strategy includes a roadmap for taking punitive action, introducing reforms and rationalizing the price of sugar.

Akbar said a committee headed by Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar has been constituted to finalise the reforms in sugar policy and rationalize prices of sugar. The committee has started negotiations with sugar mills association in this regard.

Flour scandal

The SAPM revealed that some Rs254million of Ramzan Package of 2018 had been misappropriated by 149 flour mills tasked to provide wheat flour to people on subsidized rates.

“Out of Rs254 million, a sum of Rs190 million has already been recovered and deposited to the national exchequer. Action is also being taken against 156 officials of the food department.”

He said the anti-corruption department has started criminal proceedings against 70 officials of the food department, who were directly involved in misappropriation of wheat subsidy. He said 149 flour mills were involved in the embezzlement of wheat. The total number of mills was 687s.

“Right now, due to strict measures taken, a 20 kg flour bag is available at Rs860 in Punjab. In case of complaint helpline of Punjab government could be contacted.”

He said over 100 stay orders have been issued by different courts on petitions of sugar mills in the last 11 years. “The government made the sugar inquiry commission report public – the first incident of its kind in the country’s history,” he said.

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