Sweet misery

Almost daily the country is awash with more and more evidence of the government’s dismal failures, whether they are in governance or in providing the Pakistani masses with an occasional sigh of relief. Nothing can amplify this fact more than the increasing sugar crisis, a national catastrophe that has the potential to upset the entire dispensation. The crisis has reached its peak as sugar is now out of the reach of most people at a stupendous Rs 120 per kilogramme in some cities. There are doomsday forecasts that the price could rise even higher.
Taking note of this fact, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) convened on Monday and decided that the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) would have no further control over the import and supply of sugar. In addition, the 350,000 metric tonnes of sugar already stocked with the TCP would be released into the open market for immediate relief to the masses. Although it is quite confusing as to why the CCI, which is essentially a body that resolves issues of contention amongst the provinces and the provinces and the Centre should take up this matter, the post-meeting war of words between Shahbaz Sharif and Babar Awan has ironically put a provincial-federal spin on the issue. Punjab blames the Centre for not importing sugar on time and the Centre blames Punjab for not starting the crushing season. Whilst this blame game gains momentum, the masses continue to suffer from a debilitating shortage of a household staple.

This meeting raises one very pertinent question: when the TCP will no longer be in charge of handling sugar, who will be? If the government is considering the private sector to be the remedy for this crisis, they ought to think again. Considering that the current crisis is one that is at least partly the direct result of private sector avarice, created by an artificial shortage due to the illegal hoarding of this essential item by mill owners and stockists themselves, do we really want to put all our eggs in the basket of a closed cocoon of mafias? The situation is bad enough as it is with many of the country’s main mill owners being part of or having connections with our political set up. There is hardly any accountability or regulation when the profiteers themselves are the ones supposed to make and implement laws. To give the sugar barons official permission to handle and release the sugar supply at whatever rate they please will spell doom for the masses.

We are naïve to think that the private sector will be a panacea for all our ills. Unlike the developed world, we exist in the early stages of capitalism where robber barons have the most to gain. What we need to do is develop a system of government competence where cronyism ends and accountability begins. We need to quit assigning blame and stop listening to people like Nazar Gondal and Raja Parvez Ashraf who claim that sugar is a luxury and electricity cannot be cheaper, therefore we should do without both.Where was the federal government when, in 2009, the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association said that there would be a shortage this year and importing sugar was vital? Why has the Punjab government failed to start its sugar crushing season to allay this shortage? These acts of incompetence and antipathy towards the masses have resulted in the severe inflation that we see today. With no end in sight and no one to agitate against this injustice as when mobs spontaneously protested (interestingly because of sugar price hikes) against Ayub Khan, the crisis seems set to get only worse – Dailytimes