KARACHI: Federal Minister of Industries and Production Hammad Azhar pinned the blame of the country’s sugar crisis on the sugar mills association, insisting that their incorrect data caused a steep hike in prices of the commodity.
Speaking on Geo News’ Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Ke Saath, Azhar said the federal government was informed of a 300,000 tonnes surplus by the association in a meeting on May 11. “I was told we might even have to export it.”
The situation, however, took a 180 degree turn when the sugar commission report issued a month later hinted at a shortage and recommended a physical verification of the stock. “We conducted physical verification in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and still waiting for Sindh government to do so.”
Azhar said the government found the demand increased by two-three times in Punjab. “Obviously, either they were showing us fake receipts or hoarding sugar,” he continued. “This created impression of a shortage that led to a hike in sugar prices.”
When questioned by host Shahzeb Khanzada on the government’s delayed decision to import sugar, Azhar said the commission report had only “hinted” at a shortage. “We cannot just start buying and importing sugar when the sugar mills association was insisting they had surplus.”
“After the physical verification, that 300,000 tonne surplus changed into a 300,000 tonnes shortage,” he admitted. “At this point the government decided to import sugar.”
Khanzada pointed out that the commission report estimated consumption at 5.2 million and projected a 8.66% decrease in production. “Even Jahangir Khan Tareen warned the government of a sugar crisis and recommended import,” he added.
Azhar insisted that the Centre took prompt actions. “We held sugar advisory board’s meeting which was attended by provinces, association and other relevant authorities. It took us about 3-4 weeks to resolve the issue.”
He said the government decided to import sugar as soon as the data was available.
“But the public is still paying a high price for sugar even at utility stores,” interjected Khanzada.
“Utility Stores Corporation is bound by the Procurement Regulatory Authority rules to buy sugar at market price. We went after the sugar cartel, obviously they will respond,” said Azhar. “By devising laws, we have ensured sugar mills start crushing process without delay and empowered Punjab government to set the date for it.”
“Our efforts led to the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) becoming independent after 11 years,” he said. “Previous governments offered subsidies without physical verifications.”
Azhar said the government’s job was to verify the data and legislate. “Whether there is a genuine shortage or it’s a cartel’s doing is up to the relevant authorities to investigate.”
“I cannot comment until the authorities investigate it. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) are all probing the matter.
“If we find out someone has taken undue advantage then I want to make it clear that Imran Khan will not protect anyone. He has proved it.”
originally published in geo news