The National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) investigation into the wheat scam in Sindh –which earlier this month, led to a verbal argument between the lawmakers of MQM and PPP in the National Assembly–has revealed that both members of the food department of Sindh and private individuals are likely to be implicated. With roughly 2.5 million jute bags missing or misappropriated and with millions of rupees of losses reported, NAB’s attention on the issue could not have come at a better time. For years, provincial governments have a policy of buying the yields of crops from farmers and sell them off at a later date.

The provincial government’s wheat procurement initiatives stem from the rationale of ensuring that small and medium scale farmers do not get adversely affected through fluctuating market prices. Theoretically the government will buy wheat at a standard price to reimburse the farmers for their work, and then later sell the wheat at market prices to ensure that farmers continue to be incentivised enough to carry on farming wheat and are duly paid for their crops on time.

However, in practice, this system is hardly achieving the objective of offering relief to farmers because of the long delays in cash disbursement by the government and the existence of middlemen that purchase the crop at a lower price only because they can have the ability to wait for the government’s payments. The resulting profit they make is the money that should have gone to the farmers but is instead pocketed by those in the middle.

The policy of easing the fears of small and medium sized farms is very sensible, but the way it is being executed is not only costing the national exchequer billions of rupees as a result of corruption and mismanagement, a scandal of this scale in the agricultural sector is likely to be highly detrimental for the confidence of farmers and consumers all across the country.

NAB and Sindh Anti-Corruption Establishment’s (ACE) action on the matter has already led to the arrests of two mill owners, with more expected in the coming weeks. The provincial government on its part however, has so far failed to take any action in terms of initiating greater quality control mechanisms and more transparency and has instead deflected from the issue; when MQM leaders brought this up in the NA, members of the PPP claimed that this was a provincial matter and discussing it at the national forum was an attempt to malign the Sindh government. This attitude must change in circles of government in Sindh; a mistake of immense magnitude has been made, and instead of looking to save face the PPP government needs to answer how this happened on their watch.