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Sunday, April 14, 2024

How sugar mafia can be tackled?

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has exposed the sugar mafia involved in monetary fraud, speculative trade and money laundering as it got pieces of evidence of a persistent increase in sugar prices through creating artificial shortage of the commodity. The sugar mafia earned Rs 110 billion in a year by increasing the sugar prices from Rs 70 to 90 by practicing ‘Satta’ gambling and stashed the illegally gotten amount in fake and secret accounts,

It seems Pakistan is being ruled by the Sugar mafia. Ever since the restored Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) took suo-moto notice of the Sugar prices the ‘Genie’ has been out of the bag. It proved to be one of the many disasters left behind by the CJP by his unnecessary encroachment in the domain of the executive. Almost all ‘Sugar Barons ‘ are sitting comfortably in the corridors of power, well out of reach of any regulatory mechanism. The Prime Minister (PM) calls them the ‘Sugar Mafia’, clearly indicating their extended reach in all tiers of the state. Perhaps the free market is the biggest hoax of the 21st century. Cartelization is unbeatable unless dealt with an iron hand and will. A major course correction is required before it is too late, like the Drug Baron’s of South America, they may take total control of the republic.
Conflict of interest has to be eliminated. The President should issue an ordinance debarring all public position holders and their immediate family members from indulging in this  ‘ Sweet Gold ‘ business at the cost of the nation. Within thirty days they should totally divest from their business interests or resign from their elected portfolios. Tejarat and Politics cannot co-exist. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) after his election victory in the Western Wing in the 1970 elections claimed that he had succeeded in burying the politics of ‘Mirs ‘, ‘Pirs’, ‘Sains’ but little did he know that the ‘Tajirs’ would be added to the gang of exploiters after he was gone.

As a nation, tough decisions are needed to correct the situation

The overall decline that we face today was inflicted by the partyless elections of 1985 where idealogy became a punishable sin. Comrades were rounded up and locked up in the dungeons of the Lahore Fort. Since then democracy has been a hostage of vested interests. In the 1988 elections after the demise of the Chief Tormentor, Benazir emerged victoriously but was made to compromise thereby losing her democratic edge to the establishment created ‘Political Bounty Hunters’. Since then common good has been uncommon, service to the people is on no one’s agenda. While nation-building has stopped, personal fiefdoms have emerged.
As a child growing up in the fifties and sixties we enjoyed the ‘Gur’ (Concentrate of Sugar Cane extract). It was available in several forms with dried fruit additives. Even Desi Sugar (Granular form of Gur) was commonly used in place of ‘White Sugar’ that is in common use these days and is considered to be unhealthy for human consumption. A very complicated and lop-sided mechanism exists. While the growers complain, the Mill Owners keep getting richer and powerful. There are serious issues of linkages and timely payments. Agriculturalists maintain that ‘Sugar Cane’ is not an appropriate crop of our region as it consumes a lot of water which is getting sparse now.
According to them ‘Beet Sugar’ is a better option. The growers are required to sell their produce to the Mill Owners as local production of  ‘Gur’ is controlled. The elected government of ZAB had introduced a platform of ‘Tripartite Meetings’ in which all the three stakeholders participated (Labour, Management, Government). Decisions were arrived at by consensus. For a long-term solution to the recurring ‘Sugar Crisis,’ such a get-together may be needed.

What is the solution to these crises?

To come out of the ill-effects of Ayub Khan’s self-defeating industrialization, the Board of Industrial Management (BIM) was created in the decade of the seventies which then planned the basic industrialization needed by the nation. Steel Mills, Fertilizer Complexes, Defence Production Industries, etc were started during this period. BIM was led by technocrats instead of bureaucrats. After the change of government, it was disbanded and the industries were handed over to the ministries causing the serious decline of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOE).

My friend Dr. Kamal Monnoo the economist believes that the need-based industrialization model of China, the Czech Republic, Canada, Bangladesh is more viable in watching public interests. To strengthen the economy such a model should be considered to revive the much-needed SOEs under professional management or even Public-Private Partnership replicating the SEMEC (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company) model that is mining coal at Thar and producing the much needed power Beet at a very low cost.
The Sindh Government has 52% stakes in this venture, while 48% belongs to the private together with management control. In the decade of the fifties, when Sui Gas was discovered in the Dera Bugti area of Balochistan, PPL (Pakistan Petroleum Limited) was established in collaboration with a Multinational Company to pump outgas. The arrangement has worked very well. Under a similar arrangement, ‘Sugar Plants’ can be built based on ‘Beet’ instead of  ‘Sugar Cane’.
Almost all political parties are infested with the ‘Sugar Mafia’ which have to be dealt with. After the meeting of all the stakeholders, a count down to transition can be started allowing the growers to prepare for other more useful crops and the Mill Owners to consider other basic inputs instead of the ‘Sugar Cane’. The current system is seriously flawed and exploitative which cannot be allowed to continue any longer. The movement against the first dictator started with the rising ‘Sugar’ prices.
Now that an elected government is in power, it should work in public interests. If negotiations fail, the government should consider a temporary take-over to oversee the transition while building a stockpile of ‘Sugar’ to cover the interim period. As the saying goes; “All that glitters is not gold”, the ‘Sugar Cartel’ is certainly not, despite the ‘Crown’ it forcefully wears at the cost of the suffering masses.
The writer is an Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.