Crackdown against sugar mafia


The government has often been accused of being a little slow to get off the mark as far as the crackdown against the so called sugar mafia is concerned. But with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) booking eight major sugar groups and 40 ‘satta agents’ (speculative pricing manipulators) on Thursday, and the fact that an FIR has been registered against the mafia, including the mills owned by Jahangir Tareen, Hamza Shahbaz and Salman Shahbaz, things should move rather quickly now. Federal Minister Khusro Bakhtiar and his family are also under investigation and could be summoned at any moment. It turns out that the FIA found out that mill owners, in collusion with speculators, earned unjustified profits of around Rs110 billion just last year. And also that they were just about to raise prices artificially again for the annual Ramzan windfall gains, which is why authorities decided to step in at this precise moment.
So the delay so far could well be attributed to waiting for the right time and catching the bad guys in the act. Either way, the government now faces another stern test of its abilities to keep a check on prices. If, even after this investigation and whatever comes from these arrests, it is unable to put a cap on the price of something as essential as sugar, especially after it has been so unjustifiably high for so long, then it will win few points for the people. Furthermore, it will also have to answer for the investigation itself. For, if even going after who according to the government were responsible for the problem didn’t solve it, then it must have been looking in the wrong direction all the time.
All eyes will then be on the price list during the month of Ramzan, when prices tend to rise, quite unfairly, even without the influence of speculators. So far the Punjab government’s performance has left a little to be desired when it comes to the output of its price control committees. Surely the government has thought its Ramzan price policy through very carefully. There is no bigger burden on ordinary people than high prices, especially when it comes to items of daily use with very inelastic demand. And it’s not just sugar that they have been made to pay extra money for. Therefore, while the investigation moving forward in a logical manner is very much appreciated, the real test of the government lies in what it can do for the people as far as prices in the market are concerned.