The government has decided to recover Rs386 billion from the sugar mills responsible for an acute shortage of the commodity last year.

According to sources, Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a recent cabinet meeting, asked Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar to brief the cabinet about the actions taken so far on the report of a sugar commission that conducted a probe into the crisis.

The commission — led by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) — had accused sugar mill owners of earning illegal profits worth billions of rupees through unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, tax evasion, misuse of subsidy and purchasing sugarcane off the books.

 The commission had also pointed out that the country’s top politicians — including PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, PTI’s Jahangir Tareen and Khusro Bakhtiar and PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari — were also among the beneficiaries of the crisis.

The adviser informed the meeting that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had declared that the sugar mills were liable to pay Rs386 billion.

This amount, he said, includes Rs29 billion on accounts of taxes and Rs22 billion imposed as fines for starting legal cases against the commission and its report.

“The notices have been sent for recovery of the amount and cases have been referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which has initiated relevant inquiries,” Akbar said.

The government had directed the FBR to undertake a comprehensive audit of all sugar mills in the country in light of findings of the commission to unearth every instance of concealment and tax-fraud as well as the benami transactions in accordance with the law.

Sindh’s conspiracy

Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi alleged that the PPPled Sindh government recently released wheat earlier hoarded during the flour crisis last year. The cabinet criticised the Sindh government for its “apathetic response” to the situation.

According to the sources, the prime minister declared it a conspiracy “not just against the federal government but especially against the poor people of the Sindh”.

Mortgage financing Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda had raised the issue of banks offering mortgage financing just for one- to two-year-old houses, a precondition which he said is hurting the poor people.

The prime minister advised the minister to bring up the issue in the review meeting of the housing committee.

Punjab market committees

Alluding to the dissolution of the market committee in Punjab, Premier Imran endorsed the decision of the Punjab government, adding that the biggest challenge being faced by the government is the spiralling inflation in food prices.

Imran pointed out the relevant twin menace of supply side, shortage, hoardings and differential in wholesale and retail prices of essential commodities.

The PM said the real challenge is to eliminate the middle men from the market to lower and stabilise the prices of essential food items.

Pay raise for govt employees

Commenting on the recent protest by government employees for pay raise, the prime minister asked Minister for Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh to take provinces’ input as well and to quickly firm up a proposal for rationalized pay raise package for federal government employees.

Re-employment issue

Minister for Science Fawad Chudhary objected to reemployment of retired civil servants, army officers and judges who derive dual benefits like pensions as well as salaries after re-employment.

The law minister clarified the legal nuances of the issue and said the pensioner benefits are derived after rendering the pensionable service and entitlement of salary after re-employment is in accordance with the relevant law and rules, hence any discussion will generate undue controversy.

Sources said that senior leaders of Karachi, including Hunaid Lakhani, Ashraf Qureshi, Maulvi Mahmood and others have been ignored in the Senate election process.

Talking to the media after submitting nomination papers for the Senate’s general seat in the Election Commission of Pakistan, the federal minister for water resources said that there is no insurgency in the party. “There are always differences at home.”

Earlier, after submitting nomination papers, the returning officer (RO) told Vawda that he would have to come for scrutiny on February 18 at 12 noon. Further, K-P based MNAs met Imran at PM House and apprised him of their reservations against giving Senate tickets to Khattak and Saleem.

Talking to The Express Tribune, the PTI sources said that MNAs Haji Shaukat Ali, Junid Akbar, Noor Alam Khan, Arbab Amir Ayub and Sher Ali Arbab called on the PM Imran Khan and discussed the matter with him in great detail.

“Some of the MNAs are blaming that they had not been taken into confidence before deciding party candidates which is not the right way and others have reservations about specific candidates who have been given party tickets,” sources said.

The ECP said that at least 170 candidates submitted their nomination papers with ROs for contesting election on Senate vacant seats to be held on March 3.

According to an official of ECP, 29 candidates have filed their nomination papers from Punjab, 39 from Sindh, 51 from K-P, 41 from Balochistan and 10 from the federal capital.

As many as 40 nomination papers have been submitted for women’s seats while 10 for non-Muslim and 33 nomination papers have been submitted for technocrat seats and Ulema seats besides 87 for general seats.

He said that the commission had extended the date for filing nomination papers for Senate election from February 13 to February 15 on written and verbal requests from various forums to facilitate the candidates. He said that the ECP had appointed five ROs for Islamabad and the four provinces.

He said that the polling will be held on March 3 on 48 seats, two in Islamabad, 11 each in Punjab and Sindh, and 12 each in K-P and Balochistan that will fall vacant on the expiration of the term of the members.

He said that the polling would be held from 9am to 5pm simultaneously in the Parliament House, Islamabad, and provincial assembly buildings in Punjab, Sindh, K-P and Balochistan. A public notice has already been issued by the ROs for inviting nomination papers.

The nominated candidates will be announced on February 16, while the date for scrutiny of nomination papers will be February 17 and 18.

The last dates for filing of appeals against acceptance or rejection of nominations will be February 20 while the dates for disposal of appeals by the tribunals will be February 23. The date for publication of revised list of candidates will be February 24 while the date for withdrawal of candidature will be February 25.