ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan, while chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet on Tuesday, endorsed an out-of-the-box proposal for dealing with the locust threat in the country under which people would be given financial incentives for catching locusts and encouraged to sell these insects to poultry farmers who could use them as poultry feed at a rate of Rs15 per kilogram.
The cabinet also decided to form an inter-ministerial committee to present recommendations to the government regarding the role of regulators in the light of the sugar inquiry commission report that has exposed ‘wrongdoings’ of many bigwigs, including ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) stalwart Jahangir Tareen, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif’s sons and PML-Q leader Monis Elahi.
It was officially informed that the meeting also took some important decisions regarding prevention of shortage and smuggling of wheat/flour and the spread of coronavirus in the country.
He said the prime minister was apprised that recently the plan of catching and selling locusts for Rs15 per kg was implemented in Okara.
PM Khan hailed the plan and desired that it should be implemented across the country after consent of provinces as this would not only give some relief to already coronavirus-hit people but also boost poultry farming, besides eradication of migratory insects that could fly hundreds of kilometres in swarms.
Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz, when contacted later, confirmed that the prime minister had endorsed the proposal for dealing with locust swarms under which people would be given financial incentives and an opportunity of selling the migrating insects to poultry farmers for Rs15 per kg.
“In fact, the prime minister wanted to turn the crisis into an opportunity, therefore, he approved a plan of catching and selling locusts,” he added.
He said PM Khan had asked Ministers Fakhar Imam, Hammad Azhar and Khusro Bakhtiar as to how the people would be given financial incentives for catching locusts.
During the cabinet meeting, the prime minister was given a detailed briefing on present situation of locust swarms, including information about the worst-hit parts of the country.
According to state-run PTV, locust swamps have attacked 31 districts in Baluchistan, 10 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, four in Punjab and seven in Sindh.
The meeting also called for giving incentives to people for saving crops from locusts through traditional means, like beating the tin drum.
Contrary to normal practice, no post-cabinet meeting press conference was held by Information Minister Faraz though the media was informed that the minister would hold a presser at 6:30pm.
Sugar scam report
“The meeting decided to form an inter-ministerial committee to review the facts in the light of inquiry commission’s report on sugar and give recommendations for reforms and effective role of regulators,” an official press release issued by the information ministry said.
The press release quoted the prime minister as saying that: “The main objective of such measures is to prevent people from the burden of price hike of sugar.”
On May 21, the federal cabinet had made public the much-awaited sugar commission’s inquiry forensic audit report that exposed over Rs150 billion fraud in the manufacturing sale and export of the commodity every year by sugar barons.
The report had suggested criminal proceedings against those involved in the scam and referring of their cases to accountability agencies concerned, like the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Anti-Corruption Departments (ACDs) in provinces.
However, a source privy to the cabinet meeting said the cabinet did not consider referring of cases of the sugar scam to NAB, but hinted that they would be sent to FIA.
The report revealed that how the “sugar cartel” in the country, comprising 88 mills, in collaboration with some government departments — including the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), FBR, Sugar Advisory Board –allegedly cheated innocent sugarcane growers and later the common man right from the start of procurement of cane, manufacturing of sugar, sale of sugar in the local market, the export subsidy and tax evasion involving billions of rupees.
Wheat shortage and smuggling
The cabinet meeting was given a detailed briefing on procurement of wheat by provinces and estimates of future supply and demand of these items.
The meeting decided to form a high-level committee to present recommendations in reform in the sector and the role of flour mills.
PM Khan directed the interior secretary to present recommendations of an already formed task force on wheat smuggling so that they could be implemented in letter and spirit.
The meeting also reviewed the coronavirus situation in the country and stressed the need for the strict implementation of SOPs (standard operating procedures) devised by the government for different industries and business to control spike of Covid-19 in the country.
The cabinet expressed satisfaction over increasing coronavirus testing capacity in the country that has increased from 400 to 32,000 tests per a day.
The meeting also gave approval for export of PPE (personal protective equipment) and sanitizers being manufactured in the country. However, it empowered a joint committee of the ministries of science & technology, health, trade and industry to take any decision regarding a ban on the export of any such items.
The meeting expressed grief over the recent incident PIA plane’s crash that claimed over 100 lives.