Even an ordinance justifiable to claw back billions skimmed by sugar mills

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 05:54 PM, 16 Feb, 2021
Even an ordinance justifiable to claw back billions skimmed by sugar mills
File photo.

While the PTI government faces countless challenges to be able to honour the party’s pre-election commitments, recovery of Rs386 billion from the sugar mills allegedly responsible for the shortage of the sweetener last year is the latest one.

A decision to claw back the skimmed amount was taken at a recent cabinet meeting after which notices have been sent to the units that exploited the situation and cases have been referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). 

The anti-graft watchdog, according to a report, has started inquiry against the ‘accused’ sugar mills.

In the light of the disappointing past performance of the NAB it is hard to speculate how long the process will take to complete and reach the logical conclusion. (The NAB is proud of its actions against the corrupt elements but the level of corruption in society remains high as ever).  

In case the ‘culprit’ mills are taken to task regardless of the ruling party’s political interests, the PTI will certainly pocket political benefits at the time of the next elections. But if it failed, a possibility of which cannot be ruled out in the light of the unenviable tradition of the past governments’ succumbing to political pressures or striking deals, the price will be very heavy for the ruling party to pay.

It may be recalled that a special commission had been set up to look into the last year’s sugar crisis and the characters responsible for it. 

The commission — led by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) — had accused sugar mill owners of earning illegal profits worth billions of rupees through unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, tax evasion, misuse of subsidy and purchasing sugarcane off the books. 

The commission had also pointed out that top politicians — including PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, PTI’s Jahangir Tareen and Khusro Bakhtiar and PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari — were among the beneficiaries of the crisis.  

The PTI government will be doing a great national service to the resource-starved country in case if it succeeded in recovering the amount from the influential people identified in the report.   

These people, because of their political influence, are expected to use all tactics to save the ‘booty’. They may move courts to get stay orders against the NAB actions. The government would also be justified in using all its powers to recover the amount. Even the promulgation of a presidential ordinance – disallowing the courts to intervene – would be a step in the right direction. 

On the completion of its half term in office it is high time for the PTI leadership to make people trust that nobody is above the law and he who made money through corrupt practices would have to face the long arm of the law.  

Not only this, the incumbent government should also devise a strategy to recover the billions and billions of loans unjustifiably written off by the previous governments. 

It is a common practice that industrial units, by greasing relevant palms, get loans written off, dealing a serious blow to the exchequer.

According to a report published in July 2016, during the last 30 years, hundreds of private companies got their bank loans – exceeding Rs50 million each, written off. The amounts written off only in three years exceeded Rs280 billion.

Then finance minister Ishaq Dar had said that some 400 corporate enterprises had got their loans written off.  

According to a document submitted to the then Senate, Rs270 billion loans were written off in 2015, Rs4.4 billion in 2014 and Rs6 billion in 2013. 

The industrial units that were benefitted by the action had also been identified.  

In case the doors of corrupt practices are closed, the government will not have to seek foreign loans at a scale it has to.

Ashraf Mumtaz

The writer is the Deputy Editor of 24 Digital.