Amidst the inquiry and discussion over who is to blame for the sugar crisis, the shortage continues in major cities such as Lahore. Unfortunately, sugar is still sold above the government enforced rates where available. Higher rates being charged for sugar—an essential item—speaks volumes about the government’s inability to control prices. It is nothing but a show of poor governance and the inability to reign in the profiteers. The sugar racket, like all other monopolies in the country, is challenging the writ of the state. This is no different to the recent debacle with the Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs); fuel came back to the markets the minute the government caved and increased the prices.

The shortage of essential commodities is not a new practice that the government does not know a solution for. Back in February, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan himself admitted his government’s failure to keep the prices of sugar and wheat flour in check. Yet it seems that the government has not devised a mechanism that would avoid a repeat incident.

While people look to the state to keep the prices of essential commodities in check, the government seems unable to apprehend the profiteers. Poor governance, particularly at the local level is one of the likely factors making present food inflation persist longer and a recurring phenomenon. Things get more complicated due to the lack of price control committees. Thus, the perception of a government lacking the ability to enforce its writ is giving way to hoarding and predatory market practices.

It is strange that the government orders a price decrease and things disappear off the shelves while the inquiry committee, the ruling party and the opposition trade barbs over who is to blame. It is not hard to see that big business across sectors is exploiting the infighting, leniency and inaction shown by the government. Cracking down on mills and retailers needs to be a regular exercise. A one-time spot check is not going to solve anything. This is an ongoing problem, and the moment the government’s attention gets diverted, the average consumer is exploited once more.