The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has issued show-cause notices to Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) and its 84 member mills after finding evidence of cartelisation for making multibillion rupees of unjustified profits.

The evidence reportedly consists of an exchange of emails between a senior official of one of the sugar mills and PSMA Punjab zone office bearers, on sensitive information revealing illegal activity and conveying inappropriate information. The seizing of these Whatsapp chats and messages indicate that a senior official, who was at the time in charge of coordinating the sugar stocks in PSMA had been communicating sensitive information which would undoubtedly disrupt a fair and competitive market, and this communication was dated back to 2012, indicating that this has been going on for years.

Only show-cause notices have been given—the CCP still has to give a verdict on this case and decide if the evidence is worthy enough to prove cartelisation. However in the case that the investigations carried out are accurate, then due justice must be carried out. This is not just a personal crime—manipulation of the market and depriving the masses of a staple item is a public crime, and a serious one at that. Cartelisation and other anti-competitive activities are illegal in nearly all jurisdictions in the world due to the extreme damage they inflict upon the economy and the general public. It results in a reduction of incentives, lower quality of products, and higher prices. This cartelisation might have also served as a factor in increasing inflation.

The PSMA has been engaged in dubious behaviour for a long time—perhaps the lack of accountability is a reason behind the decline of the sugar industry. The government has a long legal fight on its hands that it must not give up on—if it sees this case through the end, it will gain much credibility, considering its own allies might stand to be implicated.