Anti-graft body told to look into possible corruption behind setting sugar import quotas

- Rajesh Khanal, Kathmandu

Nov 21, 2018-

The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday asked the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) to look into possible corruption among government officials when setting sugar import quotas.

A subcommittee under the House panel headed by lawmaker Lekh Raj Bhatta pointed out possible involvement of government officials in ‘big financial irregularities’. The subcommittee blamed authorities for not implementing the agreement signed between the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies and private sugar mills on September 16 setting the price of sugar at Rs63 per kg.

Disregarding the accord, the ministry fixed the price of sugar at Rs70 per kg even though the mill gate price was Rs53 per kg. A task force report urged ministry officials to favour 12 sugar mills which created a ‘cartel’ by fixing the retail price.

With prices of essentials rising sharply during the festival season and sugar shooting up to Rs90 per kg, PAC has been criticised for approving the subcommittee report only after the end of the festivals.

PAC at its Tuesday meeting tried to defend itself by saying that the maximum price of Rs63 per kg the committee had fixed had helped prevent prices from rising during the festivals. “If we had not fixed the price, the market price could have surged abnormally,” said PAC Chairman Bharat Kumar Shah.

The parliamentary committee also asked the government to enforce a directive to develop price analysis, price fixation and price regulation mechanism.

Establishing a management information system, increasing the frequency of market inspection, conducting a study to scrap VAT on sugar, addressing the delayed settlement of dues to sugarcane farmers by sugar mills and building a warehouse to maintain adequate stocks of sugar are among the things the committee has asked the government to do.

Speaking at the House committee meeting, lawmaker Birodh Khatiwada said the government needed to check the malpractice of importing sugar at a low price to sell it at a high price in the local market.

“The government needs to study the difference between actual imports and domestic production before imposing restrictions on sugar imports,” he said.

Lawmaker Hridayesh Tripathi expressed concern at the delay in providing the subsidies announced by the government to sugarcane producers. Last August, the government announced a subsidy of Rs60 per quintal to sugarcane farmers.  

Parliamentarian Minendra Rijal criticised PAC for not sanctioning the task force report on time. Stating that the sugarcane harvesting time was approaching, Rijal urged the government to take prompt action to help farmers besides preparing an effective price control mechanism for the next season.

Published: 21-11-2018 08:34

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