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The prime minister has withdrawn Bakhtiar's portfolio as national food security minister and appointed him as the federal minister for economic affairs.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."
Mr. Jahangir Khan Tareen has been removed as Chair of Task Force on Agriculture in light of findings of Sugar and Wheat Inquiry Report. Any further action may be taken after final findings of the Inquiry Committee
— Dr. Shahbaz GiLL (@SHABAZGIL) April 6, 2020
“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.
The sugar inquiry commission has been actively engaging with about 10 mills, including 3 of mine . We are sharing all records asked for. We have given free access even to our server. Nothing has been seized as we are fulfilling all requests
We have nothing to hide .
— Jahangir Khan Tareen (@JahangirKTareen) April 6, 2020
“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.