THE sugar price hike has come to be an annual dance between the government, the sugar millers and the sugarcane growers, only a bit more hitched up in scale this time round. The latter lose out the most, along with the general public. The existence of a cartel - it should be admitted here that there is really no other word for it - in the sugar industry necessitates an appropriate response from the government. This response should have been multi-tiered. One, the government's principal cartel-buster, the Competition Commission of Pakistan, should get its act together and follow up on what is, granted, a complicated issue. Two, the government's principal trading agency for sugar, the Trading Corporation of Pakistan, should evaluate the domestic market situation clearly in advance and advocate a policy for procurement, specially regarding importing the stuff when our own millers get too petulant and greedy; and if it receives clear instructions from the relevant cabinet committee, it should necessarily have to comply. Third, there should be effective governance: hoarders incorporate many factors when deciding upon their course of action, with the fear of the law seeming to be nowhere amidst these. Since there are serious issues of governance in the country, specially a limited capacity to govern, the third tier is going to take some time to rectify. Strict action, with the policing of sugar mills and hoarders, is bound to lead to accusations of police excesses; some of them might even be fair. The second tier mentioned above is a way to circumvent these governance issues entirely and let the market play its role; sugar should have been imported and the hoarders should have been smoked out of their comfortable caves. The Cabinet is reported to have directed the TCP to import sugar, based on predictions of shortage of sugar in the market. Though these predictions later on turned out to be incorrect, had the TCP complied nonetheless, it would at least not have been economically viable to hoard the stuff. Imports should be allowed in all situations where the laws of demand and supply pull the prices up, whether these situations are natural, like a low domestic production, or artificial, like the avarice of a few. According to the government, there are 1.2 million tons of sugar in the country right now. At the current inflated prices, it is expected that the millers would make (if one were to compare with February's prices) an additional Rs 32 billion between them. It pays to be a lobby that spreads across the political divide.