The Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) Aug 17 judgment of striking down the sugar inquiry commission and its report. A three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, allowed the relevant institutions to proceed with their investigation into the sugar scandal in compliance with the report. Analysts are deliberating if Pakistan’s flawed justice system can punish the sugar mafia in light of the tussle over the inquiry findings.
Supreme Court suspends Sindh High Court's verdict on sugar inquiry commission. SC allows the relevant institutions to proceed with their investigation into the sugar scandal in compliance with the report.
— Zahid Gishkori (@ZahidGishkori) September 2, 2020
The court was hearing an appeal filed by the federal government that had challenged the SHC verdict. It issued notices to 20 sugar mills to file their comments on the petition and put off the hearing for a month.
On Aug 17, an SHC division bench comprising Justice KK Agha and Justice Omar Sial had announced the reserved verdict on a petition filed by the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) against the inquiry commission formed by the government to probe into a sugar crisis that hit the country earlier this year.
Federal government challenged the Sindh High Court (SHC) judgment against the sugar commission report in the Supreme Court.https://t.co/mwPi1yEvEc
— Hasnaat Malik (@HasnaatMalik) August 28, 2020
The SHC declared the report of the Inquiry Commission null and void and also ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to carry out an independent inquiry into the matter as per law.
Some analysts are of the view that after the premier took a decision and not only constituted a commission to probe into the sugar crisis but also made its report public. However, Pakistan’s legal system is unlikely to be competent enough to punish the sugar mafia.
Inquiry Commission report: PM Khan’s boldest decision so far?
It is important to note that earlier this year, following the shortage of wheat flour in the country and the subsequent price hike, sugar had also gone missing from the market. Taking notice of the situation, the prime minister had formed a committee to find out those responsible for the crises.
The prime minister had constituted two high-powered committees headed by the Director-General (DG) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) along with a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau and the DG of the Anti-Corruption Establishment of Punjab to investigate the causes behind the crises and price hike of those commodities. The prime minister had further directed the committee on sugar to conduct forensic analysis of sugar mills to further expand the findings.
On the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the reports of the inquiry committees tasked to probe sugar and wheat crises in the country were made public on the 4th of April. According to the inquiry committee, there are six groups which control about 51% of the production of sugar in Pakistan, JKT’s Group JDW, controls 19.97% production, RYK Group (Khusro Bakhtiar) group control 12.24%, Al-Moiz Group controls 6.8%, Tandlianwala Group 4.9%, Omni Group 1.7% and the Sharif family owns 4.5% of the production.
There were some speculations suggesting that the report might never be made public. Interestingly, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, Federal Minister for Railways, had claimed in a private talk show that the report was unlikely to be published. “There shall be no report, I think,” he said. “Any report can disrupt the political process in the country, therefore, I believe that there may be some tactics to delay the report,” he added.
JKT was a big challenge?
Jahangir Khan Tareen, a close aide of PM Khan, informed sources earlier this year that some MNAs and MPAs have ensured JKT of their support even if the report was released. “We are with Tareen shb,” the MNA from South Punjab said. There are also reports that if the commission presents its report on the 25th, there may be a strong reaction from Punjab.”
Tareen, a senior leader of PTI, has already questioned the criteria behind the audit of his nine sugar mills and the selection process by the committee formed to probe the matter. He also rejected the sugar crisis report. The PTI leader said that he does not object to the audit of his sugar mills under the committee.
“Will the commission discover the reality behind all the sugar mills in Pakistan after conducting an audit of the nine mills?” said the businessman. There are also some speculations that the premier might have an idea that Pakistan’s flawed justice system cannot punish the mafia but he still ordered to make the report public.
Can Pakistan’s flawed justice system punish mafias?
In Pakistan, politically powerful persons have never been fairly trialed and convicted before a court of law. The problem lies, argue some experts, in Pakistan’s effective legal system which lacks competence and a strong will to punish powerful persons.
In the present case, some experts fear that the sugar mafia shall get away with these allegations on technical grounds. There has already been a decision by the SHC declaring the constitution of the commission illegal.
If the sugar mafia does not face courts and ultimately explains the hidden agenda behind a manufactured sugar crisis in Pakistan, the PTI will continue to face questions about its role and political will in bringing looted national wealth back to the country.