ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court barred the government from taking action on the sugar inquiry commission report, issuing directives for the product to be sold at the rate of Rs70/kg for the next 10 days.
The 10-day stay order was issued by Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Thursday who was hearing a petition filed against the sugar inquiry commission report.
During today’s hearing, one of the counsels for the sugar mill owners, Makhdoom Ali Khan, told the court that the Constitution has stated that the federation and provinces have different rights.
The lawyer told the court that an ad-hoc committee was formed in February to take action over the rising sugar prices. He added that the commission asked the federal government to carry out a forensic audit.
“The committee was formed on the recommendations of the commission,” said the lawyer.
To this, the IHC CJ asked the details about what the commission had said about the rising sugar prices.
“The commission, in a 324-page report, mentioned a lot of reasons [for the sugar price hike],” Khan told the court. He added that the commission had requested that action be taken against the FBR, FIA and NAB officials.
Justice Athar Minallah asked the counsel again about what the commission said regarding the sugar price hike. “Sugar is a necessity for a common man. The government should take measures in this regard.”
To this, Salman Akram Raja, another attorney present at the hearing to represent a sugar mill owner, stated that the commission did not separate the use of sugar for the public and commercial purposes in its investigation.
“If the commission did not say anything regarding the availability of sugar for the public, then what did it say?” asked the judge in response to Raja’s argument.
To this, Khan interjected and told the court that the commission did not comment on the availability of sugar for the public.
“What was the price of sugar two years ago?” the judge asked. Khan responded by saying that in November 2018, the price of sugar was Rs53/kg.
Justice Minallah remarked that the price increased to Rs 85/kg in two years. He asked the federal government if it had any objections to the court’s decision to which the additional attorney general replied by saying that the federal government will not oppose the court’s order.
“A matter of public interest is being brought forward in this matter. The commission never addressed the reasons for which it was formed,” observed Justice Minallah.
The Islamabad High Court issued notices to the federal government, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Shehzad Akbar and FIA Director General Wajid Zia. Secretary interior and members of the inquiry commission were also sent notices by the court.
Sugar mill owners complain of being subjected to a ‘media trial’
During the hearing, the sugar mills owners’ attornies alleged that a media trial was being carried out against them through the government’s special assistants and ministers. He added that the commission had violated the terms of references (TOR) that were framed.
“We will send a notice to the government and ask them [about it] but for now, sell sugar for Rs70/kg,” the judge told the sugar mill owners. He added that if they agreed to the new price, the court will stop the government from taking action against them till the next hearing.
“This court does not usually intervene in the matters of the executive,” remarked the judge, but asked why the masses was not being provided their basic rights.
“In two years, the price of sugar went from Rs 53/kg to Rs85/kg,” remarked the judge, and wondered what the commission did if it did not recommend decreasing the sugar price for the people.
“The Inquiry commission’s aim was not to provide relief to the common man but to hold a media trial against us,” said Khan in response to the judge’s question. He alleged that a ‘media war’ was going on, adding that a briefing was also held on the matter Wednesday.
“We will issue a stay order for taking action against sugar mill owners but the common man should be sold sugar at the price of Rs 70/kg,” remarked the judge.
Sugar mill owners challenge Sugar Inquiry Commission report
Pakistan Sugar Mills Association and 17 other mill owners — including PTI leader Jahangir Tareen — had challenged the report by the Sugar Inquiry Commission in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday, alleging that legal formalities were not fulfilled during the investigations conducted by the commission.
The commission, in its report, has accused the sugar mill owners of earning illegal profits amounting to billions of rupees through unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, tax evasion, suspicious sugar export deals, illegal power production, misuse of subsidy and purchasing sugarcane off the books.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah took up the case today in which the federal government, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, interior ministry, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), FIA chief Wajid Zia and other departments were made respondents.
The petitioners called for the sugar inquiry report released on May 21 to be declared void and the actions ordered by the prime minister in this regard, to be suspended.
The plea, filed by Advocate Salman Akram Raja, stated: “The scope of the Impugned report clearly exceeds the constitutional mandate and limitations of a Federal Commission of Inquiry constituted under the 2017 Act, as it trespasses into matters within the exclusive legislative and executive domains of the Provinces. The entire inquiry has been carried out in a completely illegal, unlawful, opaque, biased and discriminatory manner.”
“It has been conducted in complete contravention to the requirements of the 2017 Act and the relevant terms of reference. The principle of natural justice as well as the Fundamental Rights of the petitioners including the right to due process, fair trial and non-discrimination have been violated,” read the petition.
Shahzad Akbar says action will be taken against ‘sugar daddies’
It was filed after the government announced forwarding cases to the National Accountability Bureau, FIA and other federal agencies to take punitive actions against those involved in the scandal.
The premier’s aide on accountability, Shahzad Akbar, on Sunday unveiled a comprehensive action plan outlined by the government to take to task the “sugar daddies” identified by the sugar inquiry commission as well as for an overall overhauling of the regulatory framework which had all the while “been in cahoots with the sugar mills”.
Akbar said that no matter how powerful a person is, no matter the party he belongs to, or however wealthy, “no exceptions can be created” for anyone, and this was the line of inquiry followed by the probe commission.
“Transparency is of the utmost importance when it comes to accountability. Before we take action over whatever matter is being pursued, it must be put before the people. That is why the report was made public,” said the premier’s aide.
He said the public, farmers, as well as industry experts had been consulted over an “action matrix” that was developed.