PM Khan shakes up cabinet, vows institutional reforms amid sugar scam

In this file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan can be seen presiding over a cabinet meeting. The PM Office announced major cabinet reshuffle on Thursday, as Khan decided to reallocate ministerial portfolios. (Courtesy: Social Media)
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Updated 07 April 2020

PM Khan shakes up cabinet, vows institutional reforms amid sugar scam

  • Government will initiate legal action against the accused after inquiry commission submits final report on April 25, PM’s aide says
  • A long legal battle awaits the government to get the accused convicted in sugar scam, say legal experts

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday vowed to introduce institutional reforms to avert sugar crisis in the country in the light of an inquiry report on sugar export subsidy scam which is due to be finalized by April 25.
The development comes just a day after Khan replaced portfolios of key federal ministers in a major cabinet reshuffle and removed the minister and federal secretary for Ministry of National Food Security after Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) presented two separate inquiry reports into a recent sugar and wheat crisis in the country.
The investigation 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 inquiry report has pointed out flaws in the sugar policy and the prime minister has promised to fix them through institutional reforms,” Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Khan on Information, told media after a cabinet meeting.
“The government will initiate action against those found guilty [of involvement in sugar scam] after April 25,” Awan added.
In the wake of FIA’s 32-page inquiry report on sugar crisis released on April 4, the prime minister on Monday withdrew 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, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The FIA, in its inquiry report, had stated that PTI government’s decision to allow sugar export jacked the commodity price up by 30 percent 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 Monday
“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.
Legal experts said that the government would have to fight a long legal battle to get the accused convicted in light of the commission’s inquiry report.
“The actual conviction of the accused in sugar scam may take years as the government will have to prove findings of the inquiry in the court,” Barrister Omer Malik told Arab News.

Pakistan appoints special envoy to Afghanistan

Updated 39 min 10 sec ago

Pakistan appoints special envoy to Afghanistan

  • Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq has earlier served Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul from 2008 to 2014
  • Foreign minister Qureshi gives policy guidelines to Ambassador Sadiq on Afghan peace process

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has appointed its special envoy to Afghanistan, confirmed the foreign office on Saturday. 

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi discussed policy guidelines on Afghan peace process with the Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq, the country’s newly appointed special envoy, in Islamabad on Saturday.
“The Foreign Minister congratulated Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq on his appointment as special envoy for Afghanistan and gave special instructions and hoped that the appointment of an experienced diplomat like him to this important post would help further strengthen Pak-Afghan relations,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement after the meeting on Saturday.

Ambassador Sadiq is an experienced diplomat who retired from foreign services in October 2016. He remained Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2008 – 2014. 

He had also served as Secretary to the National Security Division, Cabinet Committee on National Security, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, remained at key diplomatic posts in Beijing, Brussels and was deputy head of mission in Washington in 1998-2000.

During the meeting, Qureshi said that lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan is essential for the development of the entire region.

“Pakistan, in fulfilling its shared responsibility, has sincerely played a conciliatory role in the Afghan peace process, which is being appreciated around the world today. 

Pakistan will continue to play its full role for peace and stability in the region,” Qureshi affirmed to Sadiq.

“I have just been assigned this responsibility and busy in meetings to streamline things. I will share details very soon,” Sadiq told Arab News.

Afghan affairs expert, Rahim Ullah Yousafzai, termed it an important development citing Sadiq's in-depth knowledge of the ground realities in Afghanistan.

“This appointment will be very beneficial for Pakistan. He (Sadiq) has good personal relations with important stakeholders in Afghanistan as he remained ambassador there for six years. He also understands our security issues as he remained secretary of National Security Division,” Yousafzai told Arab News, adding that he will face new challenges as many faces in the current Afghan government are new, who were not present during his tenure in Afghanistan.