Sugar and wheat crises pose accountability test for Imran Khan

LAHORE: Reports on the sugar and wheat crises in the country directly pointed fingers at the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its allies. Those damned by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) inquiry committee include PTI senior leader Jahangir Khan Tareen, cabinet minister Khusro Bakhtiar and Moonis Elahi of the allied Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

Since the report was published on Saturday, Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken two notable steps. The first was a self-congratulatory tweet for allowing the reports to be released, “without tampering”, while the second was a cabinet reshuffle which, among other largely sideway moves, saw Khusro Bakhtiar moving from the National Food Security Ministry to Economic Affairs.

The detailed report over the scams and the ensuing crisis would be published on April 25, after which the prime minister has vowed to punish those found guilty. The premier has also vowed institutional reforms to ensure that a repeat doesn’t take place.

While the detailed forensic report is still a couple of weeks away, the initial report underlines that the Jahangir Tareen owned JDW Group and RYK group, which includes mills owned by Khusro Bakhtiar’s brother and Moonis Elahi, enjoyed major chunks of government’s export subsidies during 2015-18. However, the year 2018-19, the PTI government’s first as the ruling party, saw Tareen’s companies get over one-sixth of the total share of the sugar export, getting 22.71 per cent of the subsidy at Rs561 million, while RYK received Rs452m.

While Bakhtiar was quickly reshuffled in the cabinet, the bigger question remains over Jahangir Tareen.

Soon after the reports were made public, Tareen’s first move was to rebuke PTI leader Dr Shahbaz Gill who had tweeted that Tareen had been removed as the chairman of the agriculture task force. Tareen’s response was that he was never the chairman of “any task force”.

Tareen then went on prime time TV shows underlining his side of the story in the sugar crisis, and making potentially damaging statements for the ruling party with regards to how he recruited the political families in Punjab for the 2018 elections, and how the 2013 elections weren’t exactly institutionally rigged.

While action over Tareen will remain the major political talking point in the coming weeks, there are calls for the PM to self-reflect over the sugar crisis that ensued under his watch.

It has been revealed that as expected it was Prime Minister Imran Khan himself who approved the one million tonne sugar export in October last year, which resulted in the shortage of sugar and escalating prices in the country.

“Those under the premier looted the common man. If everything from your kitchen to your election is funded by someone, if you ask for a cycle or a plane from the same person, why would you work – you would let those people do all the work. There was already information about the consumption and production of sugar underlining that the export should not have been allowed. Whoever approved that is responsible for shortage of sugar, resulting in theft of Rs100 billion from the common man,” said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah.

Sanaullah maintains that the questions over the Rs3bn subsidy aren’t as significant as the decision that resulted in the rise in sugar prices that saw Rs100bn worth of revenue for sugar companies.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Saeed Ghani leader agreed, saying that the artificial rise in sugar prices is the main issue.

“When the department in-charge recommended that there shouldn’t be any export then the decision needs accountability. But no action has been taken so far. In fact, some ministers in the cabinet have been promoted. This is no accountability. Publishing the report isn’t enough, if you think subsidy was wrong that those who approved it should be held accountable. [But] it was the rise in sugar prices that is the real issue and the real robbery,” said Ghani.

However, the PTI leadership maintains that the decision to publish the report itself is unprecedented, which underlines that the premier would follow through with his word.

“No individuals are being targeted, it’s the system that is being revamped. We have to change the system, which required transparency. When there is accountability, there is no favouritism. And Imran Khan is the only one who can pull it off,” said PTI leader and Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda.

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