Sugar crisis: Fed up of food politics

Published: November 11, 2010

The current sugar crisis is just the result of dirty food politics.

Had we punished the hoarders of basic food items in 2008 and 2009, we wouldn’t have to face the current crisis. Surprisingly, our ‘suo moto judiciary’ did not take notice of it. No one can deny that the current sugar shortage is self-created and that RAW, XE, CIA or Musharraf have nothing to with it.

This drama is an epic mismanagement by the policy makers we have elected to operate the public relief departments of this county. We should all know the reasons behind this crisis because we are paying exactly the double of what was available only a few weeks ago.

Bitter roots of the crisis

Certainly, the recent price hike of gasoline did not affect this jump in prices, neither did the floods cause a lot of damage to the sugar cane crop. Sugar mills claim to have sold their last stocks back in September. These ‘patriotic’ millers blame the price hike on the government for not importing sugar in time to cover the gap. At the same time the millers take the opportunity to hint on a future price by declaring, that if they are able to get sugar cane from the farmers at the government controlled price, sugar can be available for Rs60 per kilogramme. But to their misery sugar cane is available at three times the price, so the price of processed sugar at retail will be set at Rs75/kg. Hence, we can rest assured that this price will remain constant for sometime once it has reached the maximum price for the desired profiteering, and when stocks are made available, when the crushing starts.

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) which is responsible for the final word on decisions related to the economy, and has been in business since 1965, is headed by the finance minister and a committee of parliamentarians. Surely, they were aware of this shortage coming up, and should have taken corrective measures much earlier, especially when the prices in the international market were at their lowest.

At this time, even if the government blames it on the floods, it cannot be acceptable. Why hadn’t they ordered the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) in September to urgently invite bids to import promptly and fill the gap? It is now after allowing the prices to double, that the machinery kicks into action and attempts to control this fruit of democracy that everyone has to bear with. All of a sudden, tenders are approved, reserve stock is released, and the role of TCP minimised in the future, by allowing the millers to import on their own, and set prices.

There are serious debates, walkouts, and resolution passing attempts in the upper and the lower houses, to give the impression that the government of the people and the extremely weak opposition is working. The bright side is that everyone is condemning this shortage, to fulfill their political statement requirements.

Reducing sugar consumption is not the answer

As there are no available means of additional income for a full time tax paying employee, he/she now has to sacrifice many necessities in order to make ends meet. Many of us who are able to access the internet and are reading this would not be able understand what the availability and need for sugar means to a very large segment of our population. We would rather advocate a reduced intake to teach this mafia a lesson and become healthier. But a labourer who works for a cup of sweet tea for an average consumption of it three times a day at least would find his downtrodden life even more miserable without it. So let’s not ask them to give up. Instead, this time we need to punish those who created these problems. The good-for-nothing parliament should form a committee to investigate this child’s play at the ministries.

Blame game continues

The chief minister of Sindh admits this crisis was illegal and artificial, and he very cleverly puts the blame on the ‘middlemen’ or hoarders, while asking the EDOs to find them and take action against them. 90% of the mill owners are parliamentarians, thus they will be protected, as always. Babar Awan puts the blame on the Punjab government and the PML-N members for creating the sugar shortage while the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif innocently claims that he had written letters to the prime minister pointing warning him of the impending shortage.

The government and the opposition, both are responsible for the crisis. Money by the finance ministry was not released to the TCP in time to buy stocks when prices were lowest. The opposition did not play its role by bringing attention towards the impending crisis, as it probably wanted to gain from the bad publicity the government would get if the shortage occurred.

All this shows what extent we can go to just to play politics. Because no matter what, the parliament will keep on debating, talk shows will have a great topic to spice up their shows, the government will present their unavoidable reasoning, the FIA may ‘forewarn’ the hoarders of action if the stocks are not released.  The reality remains that except the hoarders, millers and related officials responsible for this extortion, the public, voters of both major parties, are the ones suffering due to the shortage of a basic daily usage commodity in an agricultural country.

It appears this government does not realise that because of its unprofessional skills and lack of control, the gap between the middle class and the lower class is blurring, as the lower class heads towards the poverty line. It appears it is the government’s policy to promote the Benazir Income Support Program and get as many people possible dependant on welfare, and put them under the control of feudal.

This inflation Pakistan faces is grave and the situation is getting worse each day. But without any remorse, the government approves the RGST (aka VAT), making it the first New Year gift to the nation. Hence, another price hike on its way very soon. As usual the blame goes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while we the government lies to its people who are the burden bearers that it was the lawmakers themselves who agreed to these terms at the time of taking the loans.

As the dust settles

The reality is that by the time sugar prices are controlled, the few who had planned this mischief would have made enough profit to pay to shut a few mouths or anyone from speaking up against them. Soon, we will forget this also, and move on for more torture at the mercy of the powerful few while paying the cost of their mistakes and corruption.

Very soon the price hikes, shortages and inflation will start to hurt you too. I am fed up, maybe you aren’t, but the question is: Are you prepared to face more? If no, then what are the options available for a solution to stop this once and for all?


Syed Ali Raza Abidi

A businessman who writes on politics and civic issues. He completed his masters in business administration from Boston University. He tweets @abidifactor.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.