ISLAMABAD - The government and the opposition on Tuesday came close to blows in the Senate minutes after a house committee presented its report on the wheat and flour crisis that had hit the country earlier this year. The sergeant-at-arms had to intervene when a treasury lawmaker Senator Faisal Javed Khan quickly headed towards the Opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Mushahidullah Khan for his remarks against him that were later expunged by the Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani. There was a complete pandemonium in the house after a number of lawmakers, both from Treasury and Opposition, gathered at the aisle preventing Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senator Faisal to come close to Senator Mushahid fearing a physical scuffle can break out between the both. After Chairman Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security Syed Muzafar Husain Shah presented the report of the committee on wheat and flour crisis in the country, Senator Mushahidullah speaking on the report accused Prime Minister Imran Khan for embezzling funds of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital founded by himself.

He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan once used to raise funds from his party leadership, both from ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, after visiting them in Jeddah, London and their residence in Jati Umrah, a neighbourhood of Lahore. “Out of these collected funds, only 5 to 10 per cent went into accounts of hospital and the others were used to fill his own pockets,” he alleged and his remarks didn’t go well for Senator Faisal.

The lawmakers from both sides raised slogans of “flour thieves” and “sugar thieves” against each other

PTI lawmaker rose from his seat and barred the Opposition senator from passing strict remarks against the person what he said he is now the Prime Minister of Pakistan. PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz also followed his party colleague and protested over the remarks.

This led to the exchange of hot words between both the lawmakers and Senator Mushahid went ahead to accuse PM for protecting some of the people what he called them as “thieves” who are behind the increase in flour and sugar crisis in the country. At this, Senator Faisal accused PML-N leadership for fleeing from the country after looting the public money. The lawmakers from both sides raised slogans of “flour thieves and sugar thieves” against each other. When the Treasury lawmakers sought from Senator Mushahid an apology, the latter withdrew his remarks but refused to tender an apology.

When they kept on interrupting him, he said that he would not let any Treasury member speak if they were not ready to hear him. “Even the Prime Minister would not be allowed to speak in the house,” he said.  The parliamentary leader of PML-N in the house Senator Mushahid said that the treasury should apologize over sugar and wheat shortage and sky rocketing prices of medicines.

He questioned that why the government has not made public the report of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on wheat shortage and blamed that 20 questions were put over the report only to save those close to this government. He claimed that three individuals including a lady had been named in the report prepared by Director General FIA Wajid Zia. Chairman intervened and advised both sides not to create a bad taste in the atmosphere of the house. While presenting the report that was adopted by the house, Senator Muzafar Husain Shah said that the committee after hearing all stakeholders including Ministry of National Food security, governments of Punjab and Sindh, Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) and private sector directly directed with the wheat has concluded that the three basic reasons were behind the shortage.

 

 The report mentioned that the Punjab government gave 6 to 7 million tonnes of what to poultary industry despite a shortfall of 2 million tonnes of wheat as a result of last year’s yield, the Sindh government’s decision not to procure wheat last year, hoarding and 2 million tonnes of wheat smuggling to Afghanistan annually as the main reasons of this crisis that caused soaring prices of food staple.

Senator Muzafar said that Punjab had miscalculated that it has wheat crop in surplus and the actual estimate of shortfall was made in November last year that had to be made in May the same year. After getting feedback of shortfall in April and May, Punjab stopped supply of wheat to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that resulted in panic and increase in prices of wheat and flour,”  he said adding that the Sindh government’s decision not to purchase wheat encouraged private sector to hoard the food staple.” After Economic Coordination Committee allowed PASSCO to give 4 million tonnes each of wheat to Sindh and KP, former delayed its lifting. He said that the committee has recommended that the wheat should be sold to Afghanistan government every year on barter basis to avoid smuggling. The report recommended to form a wheat board in Pakistan having representation of all provinces, private sector, PASCO and says that targets of wheat yield should be set annually. The committee in the report recommended that the government should enhance the minimum support price wheat from Rs 1365 per 40 kg as food staple is available at that rate of Rs 1800 per kg in the open market. This would attract farmers to increase yield per acre and the cultivation area for wheat, it added. Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz said that the report clearly showed that there was no government negligence involved in the crisis rather it was an issue of supply side. He said that the crisis was because of previous governments’ negligence who were now raising hue and cry over the matter.

PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rasheed questioned why FIA report was being concealed and added that a separate session should be summoned to reach out those “thieves” who were involved in selling food staple for preparation of poultary feed. On this, the leader of house said all “thieves” who have looted this country should be brought to justice and this accountability should not remain limited to wheat crisis. PPP Senator Ms Sherry Rehman also demanded that investigations of FIA should be made public and said a minister’s name was being in this hoarding. Her party colleague Senator Moula Bux Chandio said what has prompted leader of the house to say that other “thieves” should also be arrested and added why the government is supporting those who are involved in this “theft.”

PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz said that the wheat shortage could be overcome only with the intervention of government.

The chair remarked that the house would discuss the wheat and sugar crisis in the Senate Committee after a number of lawmakers wanted to speak on the issue.