PM Khan reshuffles cabinet after sugar crisis probe

Minister for Planning Mr. Asad Umer and Minister for Power Mr. Omar Ayub Khan call on Prime Minister Imran Khan at Islamabad on March 20, 2020. (PID photo)
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Updated 07 April 2020

PM Khan reshuffles cabinet after sugar crisis probe

  • Removes Khusro Bakhtiar as food security minister after his name appeared in FIA report 
  • Country's Federal Investigation Agency said key officials profited from sugar export which jacked up price by 30%  

ISLAMABAD: In a major cabinet reshuffle on Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan replaced portfolios of key federal ministers just two days after Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) presented two separate inquiry reports into sugar and wheat crisis scam in the country.

The inquiry report had named Khan’s close aide Jahangir Tareen, allied party leader Moonis Elahi, federal minister for national food security Khusro Bakhtiar and others for benefiting from government subsidies on sugar export and profiting from increasing prices in the local market.

The prime minister has withdrawn Bakhtiar's portfolio as national food security minister and appointed him as the federal minister for economic affairs. He is replaced by Syed Fakhar Imam. The secretary ministry of food security, Hashim Popalzai, was also removed from his office, replaced by Omar Hameed. Meanwhile, Babar Awan, a senior party leader, has been appointed as adviser for Parliamentary Affairs, according to the Prime Minister's Office.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shahbaz Gill further confirmed that “Mr Jahangir Khan Tareen has been removed as Chair of Task Force on Agriculture in light of findings of Sugar and Wheat Inquiry Report." He said: "Any further action may be taken after final findings of the Inquiry Committee." 

“Some of the cabinet changes are obviously linked to the recently released inquiry reports [on sugar and wheat] as the prime minister isn’t willing to compromise on transparency and good governance,” Ahmad Jawad, ruling PTI's central secretary-information, told Arab News.

He said that a legal action would be initiated against those found guilty in the scam after detailed forensic reports would be submitted on April 25. “The government may direct FIA to proceed against the accused,” Jawad added.

The FIA, in its 32-page inquiry report had stated that PTI government's decision to allow sugar export jacked the commodity price by 30% in local market.

Pakistan had an export subsidy in 2015-16, set at Rs13,000 per ton for exports of 650,000 tons of sugar. In 2018, the PTI government quadrupled the volume of sugar eligible for export subsidies to 2 million tons to reduce excessive domestic supplies.

Rising food prices, particularly of sugar and wheat flour, present one of the toughest challenges for Pakistan’s 19-month-old civilian government. Experts have increasingly blamed influential businessmen and politicians for the price hikes, which are fueling public anger.
Sugar cane is a popular crop in Pakistan as the government sets procurement prices, while the industry is protected by a 40 percent import tariff which has led to high domestic prices.
According to the FIA report, two main groups benefited from the sugar price hike crisis. The first was JWD, which is owned by PM Khan’s top aide Tareen and which obtained 12.28 percent of the total export subsidy of Rs3.058 billion during 2015-18.

The other is RYK group which has a portfolio of four sugar mills owned by Bakhtiar's brother, Makhdoom Omar Shehryar, as well as Chaudhry Munir of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and Monis Elahi of the PML-Q party, which is part of the ruling coalition. Among them, they received a total of 15.83 percent of the government’s export subsidy, amounting to Rs3.944 billion, during 2015-18.

“The sugar inquiry commission has been actively engaging with about 10 mills, including 3 of mine. We are sharing all records asked for,” Tareen said in a Twitter post. 

“We have given free access [to investigators] even to our server. Nothing has been seized as we are fulfilling all requests. We have nothing to hide,” said Tareen. 

General Bajwa, Bill Gates discuss Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign 

Updated 19 min 28 sec ago

General Bajwa, Bill Gates discuss Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign 

  • The American business tycoon praises the army for supporting the anti-polio drive and ensuring its reach and coverage 
  • The army chief passes on the credit to ‘grassroots workers’ 

ISLAMABAD: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and American business tycoon and philanthropist Bill Gates spoke on telephone about Pakistan’s COVID-19 response and resumption of anti-polio campaign, said an official handout prepared and circulated by the military’s public relations wing, ISPR, on Saturday.
Gates applauded the Pakistan Army for supporting the anti-polio drive and ensuring the program’s proper reach and coverage.
In response, the army chief said that the effort to make Pakistan polio-free was a “national cause,” adding that the credit for running an effective campaign went to “grassroots workers, including mobile teams, law enforcement agencies and healthcare representatives.”
The two also discussed how to carry out a safe anti-polio drive for everyone amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“​Mr. Gates also appreciated Pakistan’s success against COVID-19 despite resource constraints,” said the statement. “The COAS attributed the success to a true national response executed through the mechanism of [National Command and Operation Center] which allowed optimization of resources.”
The American businessman reiterated the Gates Foundation’s ongoing commitment “to fight pandemics” around the world and to support Pakistan in its goals of ending polio and improving health for every child.