Pakistan cracks down on wheat hoarders

Pakistan cracks down on wheat hoarders
Pakistanis buy flour and other items ahead of the start of Ramadan in Rawalpindi in this file photo. Rising flour prices prompted government crackdown on hoarders. (AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2020

Pakistan cracks down on wheat hoarders

Pakistan cracks down on wheat hoarders
  • Additional wheat stocks released to meet demand and address crisis

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered a “grand operation” against wheat hoarders and profiteers in an attempt to bring down soaring flour prices.

The cost of wheat flour has risen from PKR43 ($0.27) per kilogram to PKR75 per kilo in different parts of the country.

“As per the prime minister’s instructions, we have been working closely with provincial administrations to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible,” Dr. Javed Humayun, senior joint-secretary at the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, told Arab News on Sunday.

He said the federal government had also started releasing additional wheat stocks to provinces to meet demand. “Provincial governments have also been directed to launch a crackdown against hoarders and profiteers to overcome this artificial crisis,” he added.

The prime minister set up a committee comprising a senior ruling party figure and a federal minister to take measures to control the commodity’s price.

The government’s chief spokesperson, Firdous Ashiq Awan, called the crisis “negative propaganda” that was being driven by media outlets.

“Action will be taken against those who sell a 20kg flour bag above the government’s rate of PKR805,” Awan told a press conference on Sunday. 

She added that the government had set up 368 sale points to provide flour at the officially prescribed rate. “The government will take action against hoarders and profiteers. It is our responsibility to fulfill all basic needs of the people and we are trying our best to do it.”

Pakistan’s opposition parties have seized on the crisis to criticize the government for its “failure” to control food prices.

“Only in December, prices of basic food items registered a sharp increase of 82 percent and this is a clear proof of the failure of this government,” said Marriyum Aurangzeb, from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who chairs the Pakistan Peoples Party, accused authorities of “intentionally” creating a wheat flour crisis in the country by allowing the export of 40,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan.

“Flour prices have increased for the second time in one week which proves that the government has no control over things,” he said. “Today the country is facing the worst kind of price hike after an increase in power and gas tariffs and petroleum prices.”

Pakistan’s inflation rate was recorded at 12.63 percent in December, the highest in the last nine years.

Economists and food security experts believe the crisis has been caused by the mismanagement of federal and provincial administrations, urging them to resolve it quickly to ensure food security in the country.

“If the crisis is not resolved soon, it will definitely add to food insecurity and undernourishment of a large population that already has limited economic access to a quality diet,” Dr. Abid Qayyum Suleri, executive-director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, told Arab News.