Punjab govt vows to rein in sugar sector

Punjab cabinet approves Prevention of Speculation in Essential Commodities Ord


Talib Fareedi March 26, 2021
PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE:

The Punjab cabinet has decided to regulate the whole system of sugar production, supply and sale in the province.

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said while addressing a press conference on Thursday that the government’s important decisions for providing relief to the people include the Punjab Sugar Supply Chain Management Order and Prevention of Speculation in Essential Commodities Ordinance 2021.

Under the Punjab Sugar Supply Chain Management Order 2021, sugar mills and warehouses of dealers will be registered. Only registered dealers will be allowed to sell and purchase sugar. The chief minister said the order would help to counter the activities of the sugar mafia besides ensuring the supply of the commodity to the people at affordable rates.

Read more: Sugar prices to remain high on fall in production

A no-objection certificate from the deputy commissioner concerned will be required to store more than 2.5 tonnes of sugar. No mill can sell its sugar to an unregistered dealer.

The cane commissioner and deputy commissioners have been empowered under the order to take legal action in case of any irregularity. Sugar mills and wholesale dealers will be bound to show their record to the cane commissioner.

The cabinet also gave an approval in principle to the Prevention of Speculation in Essential Commodities Ordinance 2021. Under the law, availability of essential commodities including sugar, wheat, edible oil, rice and pulses to the people at affordable rates would be ensured by curbing hoarding.

Chief Minister Buzdar said the law would prevent price hike of edibles through speculation and strict action would be taken against those responsible. He said the government wanted to save people from hoarders and profiteers ahead of Ramazan.

While responding of a question, Buzdar said the Punjab government had prepared a relief package of Rs7 billion for Ramazan. Essential items would be available to the people on the rates of 2018 during the month, whereas 313 sahulat bazaars would be set up for providing relief to the people on a permanent basis.

Prime Minister’s Adviser Shehzad Akbar said on the occasion that elements of the sugar mafia were involved in money laundering and running fictitious bank accounts. At least 10 FIRs have been registered and a track and trace system will also be implemented in this regard.

Akbar said trade of billions of rupees had been carried out through Whatsapp and prices had been fixed at will.

The cabinet also approved the wheat procurement policy 2020-21, under which Punjab government will purchase the commodity for Rs1,800 per 40kg from cultivators.

Meanwhile, investigators have reportedly unearthed involvement of the sugar mafia in financial fraud and money laundering with Rs110 billion earned by increasing prices through creation of artificial shortage and speculation in the market.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has reportedly seized 22 mobile phones, laptops and other record, including secret bank accounts, and formed 20 special teams to launch a crackdown against the mafia, which will begin this month.

According to FIA sources, the sugar mafia created artificial scarcity and resorted to hoarding, resulting in an increase in the prices from Rs70 to Rs90 per kg in a year.

The sources said the mafia made Rs110 billion through speculative trading during the year and hundreds of fake accounts were created to cover up the illicit earnings. Billions of rupees were transferred through the accounts.

The FIA sources alleged that all major sugar producing groups were behind the hoarding. They said the FIA had obtained concrete evidence from the mobile phones and laptops seized during the investigation.

They said a conspiracy to increase sugar prices during Ramazan had also been unearthed.

The relevant authorities have decided to investigate the accounts of the major elements of the mafia and to register cases and arrest them.

FIA Lahore has formed 20 teams to crack down on the sugar mafia. The crackdown will be carried out under the Anti-Money Laundering Act. When contacted, an FIA spokesman said the teams had been formed to take further steps needed to initiate legal action on the basis of the information obtained during the investigation, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2021.

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