Lawmakers tell journalists they are ‘cognizant’ of people’s miseries and are taking steps to curb inflation
Three Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers on Wednesday acknowledged the miseries being caused by rising prices of wheat and sugar—as well as other essential food items such as vegetables and fruits—and claimed that the government had started work on measures to stabilize rampant inflation.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Industries Minister Hammad Azhar, and National Food Security Minister Syed Fakhr Imam said that the prices of wheat and sugar “should not have increased”—echoing similar statements from last year’s food crisis. “We are cognizant that you [the people] have faced difficulties. The prices of sugar and flour have increased, which should not have been increased, but they did. The government is not ignorant,” stressed Qureshi. “We [federal government] will take all required fiscal, financial or administrative measures to stabilize the prices,” he added.
Reiterating a frequent message of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Qureshi said that the government would take strict action against anyone found guilty of profiteering or hoarding. He said that the provincial governments and district administrations would need to work with the federal government to check hoarding and prices of essential items in local markets. Prime Minister Imran Khan had, last week, assigned his volunteer Tiger Force the task of monitoring prices of essential items. Qureshi clarified that the Tiger Force had no mandate to control prices, and were only supposed to monitor the ground situation to ensure real prices in the market matched official prices.
During his press conference, Qureshi claimed the government had decided to import wheat to meet the gap of 1.7 million tons missed during procurement. He said the prime minister had already directed the provinces to increase their wheat supplies to mills, claiming there was sufficient wheat in the country to meet demand. He also said that Punjab had already started providing 2,000 tons of wheat to mills daily, adding Sindh had also decided to release its stocks.
To concerns over local farmers being paid less for wheat as compared to international market prices, the foreign minister said a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee would be convened next week on Monday to consider raising the support price of wheat for next year’s crop.
Prices coming down
Minister Azhar claimed the government would commence physical inspection of sugar stocks to confirm supplies. He said 55,000 tons of sugar had already been imported and 100,000 tons more was already en route. He claimed that once the latest shipment arrived, prices of sugar would reduce by Rs. 10-15—still almost double the prices of the commodity prior to the incumbent government’s tenure.
Meanwhile, Imam blamed international price parity of wheat for the price hike and alleged that “a mafia” had profited through hoarding. He claimed—in a repeat of statements from earlier this year—that the government would evolve a mechanism to check undue price hikes and discourage hoarding. He also reiterated his claims that the crisis in Sindh was a result of the provincial government not releasing its stock early. Experts have claimed this would not have made much difference as the stocks would have been transported to provinces where prices were higher, perpetuating the inflation cycle.
The PTI has been compelled to respond to rampant inflation of food items amid mass protests, with thousands of government employees converging on the federal capital on Wednesday to demand an increase in their salaries to match the inflation impact. Prime Minister Khan has vowed—repeatedly since last year’s wheat and sugar crises—that the government would ensure prices would come down.