Sugar subsidy case: CM Buzdar records statement

ISLAMABAD: Chief Minister Usman Buzdar appeared before the inquiry commission today and recorded his statement about the subsidy given to the sugar mills owners.

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The commission, headed by Director-General Federal Investigation Agency Wajid Zia, had summoned the Punjab chief minister to testify on giving subsidy worth Rs3 billion to the millers in haste in 2019 and the wheat crisis.

CM Buzdar informed the panel about the details regarding the subsidy and transfers and posting of officers in the provincial food department.

The commission probing an unusual increase in sugar prices has widened its scope of investigation by summoning almost all the decision-makers who have been involved in approving subsidies and dealing with the export and import of sugar over the past five years.

Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar had appeared before it to explain the decision to export sugar taken by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) headed by him as finance minister in 2018.

Umar had, while responding to former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s allegations, requested the commission to summon him.

Sources had said CM Buzdar would most likely be questioned about 24 Punjab sugar mills receiving Rs11.8 billion in freight subsidies from the federal and Punjab governments in 2017 and 2019 combined. Nearly Rs9.4 billion was released in 2017 — under the subsidy scheme on exports — by then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, noted the data prepared by the State Bank of Pakistan for the inquiry commission tasked with probing the recent hike in sugar prices. Of the amount, the Centre and Punjab government gave near equal subsidies to the sugar mills.

Usman Buzdar, according to sources, would be questioned also about issuing nearly Rs2.5bn for 15 of the 24 mills located in Punjab, in 2019.

Those who benefited included the JDW Group which is owned by Jahangir Khan Tareen, a senior PTI leader. Tareen was the principal beneficiary of the total subsidies dispensed, officials said. His mill received Rs2.3 billion during the PML-N tenure of which JDW took home Rs1.8 billion as freight support on sugar exports from the Punjab and federal governments, they added.

Last year, Tareen’s second unit, JK Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd, received Rs5 million from the Punjab chief minister.

Others, such as Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar who belongs to the ruling party, businessman Chaudhry Munir, and PML-Q’s Chaudhry Moonis Elahi received Rs2.8 billion collectively from the federal and Punjab governments as freight support on exports in 2017 and 2019. The RYK Mills Ltd, owned by Khusro Bakhtiar’s family, received nearly Rs889 million in 2017 from the Centre and Punjab and almost Rs89 million in 2019 from the Punjab government.

Two units of the Etihad Sugar Mills Ltd, jointly owned by Khusro Bakhtiar’s family and the Chaudhrys, received nearly Rs370 million from the Punjab and federal governments in 2017 and nearly Rs184 million from the Punjab government in 2019, official data revealed.

On Tuesday, official sources revealed that Umar was asked tough questions by the commission members. He testified on the decision to export sugar, which according to members of the commission, led to a sugar price hike in the country, paving the way for millers to extract billions of rupees from the pocket of the consumers.

Earlier on Friday, former prime minister Abbasi had said that the decisions taken by the ECC and federal cabinet led to a hike in prices of sugar across the country earlier this year.

The PML-N leader was talking to media outside the Federal Investigation Agency’s headquarters, where he had appeared before the wheat and sugar crisis inquiry commission head Wajid Zia to record his statement.

In his media talk, Abbasi had said that he presented all the ‘facts’ before the commission. He had said that the prime minister should ask his cabinet regarding the increase in rates of sugar, adding that the green signal to export sugar was given despite no surplus amount of the product in the country.

Abbasi said that for 16 months the export of sugar continued but the government did not take any notice of it. He had also said that there should be a tax on imports so it is not possible to import sugar. “The situation proves that the prime minister is corrupt,” alleged the senior PML-N leader.

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