Sell sugar at Rs70kg for 10 days

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday restrained the federal government from taking action on Sugar Inquiry Commission report and directed the authorities concerned to ensure sugar price at Rs70 per KG for the next 10 days.

IHC Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah took the petition challenging Sugar Inquiry Commission report. During hearing, Makhdoom Ali Khan and other lawyers appeared before the court and submitted that the constitution made it clear that the federation and provinces have different rights.

Makhdoom Ali Khan told the court that on the recommendation of commission an ad-hoc committee was made in February to take action over increasing sugar prices. He pointing out that the commission asked the federal government to carry out a forensic audit.

To this, court asked the details about what the commission had said about rising sugar prices. The petitioner further told the court that the commission earlier in its 324-page report mentioned a lot of reasons behind increase in the price of sugar, adding that the commission had asked that action be taken against the FBR, FIA and NAB officials.

To this, IHC CJ remarked that sugar is important for every common man and the government should take measures in this regard. He asked the counsel again about what the commission said regarding the sugar price hike.

Salman Akram Raja, another attorney representing a sugar mill owner, said that the commission did not separate the use of sugar for the public and commercial purposes in its investigation.

Justice Minallah asked if the commission did not say anything about availability of sugar for the public then what it said. Petitioner’s lawyer informed the court that the commission did not comment on availability of the sugar for the public.

Justice Athar Minallah asked what the price of the sugar was two years ago. The petitioner’s lawyer said that the price of the sugar was Rs53 per kilogram last year in November 2018.

The CJ observed that the price increased to Rs85/kg in two years, asking the federal government if it had any objections to the court’s decision to which the additional attorney general replied by saying that the federal government would not oppose the court’s order.

Justice Minallah remarked that a matter of public interest is being brought forward in this matter. The commission never addressed the reasons for which it was formed. The IHC issued notices to the federal government, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Shahzad Akbar and FIA Director General Wajid Zia. Secretary interior and members of the inquiry commission were also sent notices by the court.

The petitioner’s lawyer told the court that a media trial was being carried out against them through the government’s special assistants and ministers. He added that the commission had violated the terms of references (ToRs).

To this Justice Minallah remarked that the court will send a notice to the government and ask them about it but for now, they should sell sugar for Rs70/kg and added if they agreed to the new price, the court will stop the government from taking action against them till the next hearing.

Justice Minallah further remarked that this court does not usually intervene in the matters of the executive, but asked why the masses were not being provided their basic rights. He observed that in two years, the price of sugar went from Rs53/kg to Rs85/kg and wondered what the commission did if it did not recommend decreasing the sugar price for the people.

The petitioner’s lawyer said that the inquiry commission’s aim was not to provide relief to the common man but to hold a media trial against them. He alleged that a ‘media war’ was going on.

Justice Minallah remarked that the court will issue stay order for taking action against sugar mill owners but the common man should be sold sugar at the price of Rs70/kg. Earlier, Pakistan Sugar Mills Association and 17 other mill owners including PTI leader Jahangir Tareen had challenged the report by the Sugar Inquiry Commission in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), alleging that legal formalities were not fulfilled during the investigations conducted by the commission.

The commission, in its report, had accused the sugar mill owners of earning illegal profits amounting to billions of rupees through unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, tax evasion, suspicious sugar export deals, illegal power production, misuse of subsidy and purchasing sugarcane off the books. 


Smart lockdown is only option: PM Imran

ISLAMABAD: With the novel coronavirus rapidly spreading across the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said he was already aware that the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths would increase with the passage of time but smart lockdown was the only option for Pakistan to deal with the disease.

The country reported 6,321 Covid-19 cases and 92 deaths during the past 24 hours, taking the national tally of cases to 123,493 and fatalities to 2,409.

In his address to the nation, the prime minister said strict monitoring would be done to ensure that people follow standard operating procedures (SOPs), adding that the government would get tough on the violators. He warned of sealing all such premises that caused the spread of the deadly virus. He said the number of Covid-19 cases would increase if the masses did not take precautionary measures.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

PM Khan alleged that the opposition wanted that more people were infected with the virus so that it would criticise the government and that was why the opposition leader came from London.

“I want to tell you that we did not bow to the pressure and did not enforce the lockdown similar to the one imposed in some other countries, including India. A survey has been published by the experts of University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, etc, in which it is revealed that 84 per cent of the people in India have faced financial loss and 34pc households cannot meet their daily requirements without financial support. It also reveals that 30 million people have lost jobs but the elite class has not suffered due to Covid-19,” he said.

The prime minister said Pakistan survived because of opening of economy and distribution of cash amount among the poor. “I want to inform you that in Pakistan the number of deaths will increase in coming days, but in India patients are not getting beds in hospitals and now it [India] has also reached a conclusion that the lockdown is not a solution,” he added.

Mr Khan urged the masses to take precautionary measures as the country’s health system could not afford the burden of patients. “Now I will get the report about violations of SOPs and strict action will be taken against the violators. Shops, malls, factories and even residential areas will be closed/cordoned off in case of violations,” he warned.

The prime minister said healthcare providers were doing jihad and the government would introduce a special package for them. “Today we have the capacity to conduct 1.2 million tests in a month; initially, we had 2,800 ventilators, but now we have 4,800 vents and 1,400 more have been ordered. There were 600 ICU beds, but now we have 1,300. We are holding crash courses to train staff as we lack the trained staff to run the [ICU] beds,” he said.

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif became the latest high-profile victim of Covid-19. Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa called the PML-N president to inquire after his health.

Pakistan Medical Association secretary general Dr Qaiser Sajjad, while talking to Dawn, said it was unfortunate that the government had now realised that strict action should be taken against the violators of SOPs. “We suggest that a strict lockdown should be enforced and special package should be announced for the healthcare providers who have been sacrificing their lives in the fight against Covid-19,” he said.

A meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) was informed that 1,251 smart lockdowns were enforced across the country under the trace, test and quarantine (TTQ) mechanism and 212,900 people were socially disconnected.

Moreover, the highest number of 26,573 Covid-19 tests was conducted during the last 24 hours

Hafeez blames Covid-19 for Rs3 trillion GDP loss

• Growth crashes into negative territory
• Public debt increases to 88pc of GDP
• FBR revenues to take Rs800bn hit

ISLAMABAD: The data released by the government presented a dismal economic performance as all indictors painted broad-based setbacks and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh blamed Covid-19 for a loss of over Rs3 trillion to the national income.

Presenting the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2019-20 at a press conference on Thursday — a day before the announcement of the federal budget for financial year 2020-21 — the adviser spent a large part of his speech building narrative around inheriting a troubled economy and putting it on road to recovery before the Covid-19 pandemic hit economies of the world and Pakistan.

The data showed that not only most of the economic sectors actually went down but a few ones in the positive zone also missed targets. While Dr Shaikh put a brave face to fight back the economic contraction next year, he was equally uncertain about the recovery pattern or how long the downturn could go on to put numbers to economic loss, poverty rate or unemployment.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

He, nevertheless, feared that exports and remittances could suffer and unemployment increase if the lockdowns and social distancing prolonged in the world and within the country. He said Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have faced a Rs3tr loss. The GDP was expected to increase by three per cent with the support of economic policies, but it will now go down by -0.4pc. This means the national income would actually face 3pc to 3.5pc loss during this year.

On top of that, the adviser said the FBR revenues were projected to reach Rs4.7tr before the Covid-19 crisis, but they would now hardly be Rs3.9tr. About Rs800bn loss was simply on account of revenue, he said, adding that such a situation did not allow the government to further tighten the businesses and people in revenue pressure but warranted a helping hand to provide them with liquidity to better support the squeezing economy.

Dr Shaikh said the agriculture sector performed better with 2.67pc growth even though it missed the 3.5pc target. The industry went down by -2.64pc against a 2.3pc growth target, while the services sector dipped by -3.4pc against a 4.8pc growth target. He pointed out -7.1pc contract in transport and communication and -22.9pc fall in manufacturing, while fiscal deficit was estimated to touch 9.4pc against the 7.2pc target.

The Economic Survey launching ceremony was also attended by Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bukhtiar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood and SAPM on Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar. Other members of the PTI’s economic team Asad Umar, Omar Ayub Khan and Hammad Azhar were conspicuous by their absent.

Dr Shaikh said it was still very difficult to quantify the accurate impact of Covid-19 on the economy, but there was no doubt that it had been really hit hard and different institutions were making different projections based on quantum, severity and duration of the pandemic. “This is an unfolding event. The situation is evolving and no one could predict” how rapidly cases would increase and what would be the duration of the pandemic, besides what shape social distancing and lockdown would take in the coming days and weeks.

When the adviser was asked about the different projections — -1.5pc negative growth by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), -2.6pc by the World Bank and -0.4pc by Pakistani authorities — based on the same data and how many people could move into the poverty zone and how many to become jobless, he said it was not easy to make accurate projection because the situation was evolving on a daily basis and he was to be careful to rely on any number conclusively at this point in time or how many people would become unemployed or poor.

The adviser said the public debt had increased to 88pc of GDP and no government had been able to adhere to the legal requirement to keep the debt below 60pc of the GDP as stipulated in the fiscal responsibility and debt limitation law.

Khusro Bukhtiar said the external debt and liabilities stood at $76.5 billion and claimed that the previous government borrowed short-term commercial loans of $15bn.

Dr Shaikh said the present government also borrowed Rs7.6tr in the first year but only Rs1.5tr was on account of expenditure while all others were accrued on account of revaluation of old debt due to devaluation or over Rs1.2tr for cash buffer for strategic reason. During the current year, he said about Rs3.5tr borrowing took place, of which Rs2.7tr was on account of interest payments on the loans taken by the previous governments.

The adviser said the government had no intention to go for aggressive taxation but this did not mean that those who were rich would not be made to pay their due taxes. He said the IMF was a bank created by 200 countries to support members in distress by providing loans and policies. He said the IMF was the first to provide $1.4bn in emergency support and it also supported the government’s incentives package for small traders, the construction sector and industrial package along with social sector protection.

He said Pakistan wanted to give a message to the international community that it was a responsible country and had been treading the fiscal discipline in a professional and serious way. He said the economy was moving in the right direction before the Covid-19 crisis with considerable reduction in current account to $3.3bn and for the first time strict control in expenditure resulted in primary surplus.

Dr Shaikh gave credit to the prime minister and the army chief for putting a freeze on current expenditure and defence budget. He said no borrowing was made from the State Bank of Pakistan because it was not transparent attitude for one institution to borrow from another and charge its cost to the people through inflation. Also, not a single supplementary grant was issued to the ministries and divisions during the year, he added.

He said the government gave the Rs1.2tr economic stimulus package to provide relief to various sectors of the economy and people, and to manage the coronavirus damage in a better way, while the State Bank was provided subsidy for implementation of different programmes to provide support and relief to small and medium enterprises.

The adviser said non-tax revenue collection of Rs1.6tr against a target of Rs1.1tr was also the highest during the outgoing fiscal year and was a big step. The government had inherited an indebted economy and depleting foreign exchange reserves with threat of a potential default and was able to put together financial support from friendly countries and a big $6bn IMF programme that increased reserves from $9.7bn to $18.5bn by end of current year.