The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has directed concerned ministries, departments and officials to take action against those involved in hoarding, cartelisation and undue profiteering on foods and asked to build buffer stock of major commodities to bring price stability in the country.
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, while chairing a meeting of National Price Monitoring Committee (NPMC) on Monday, directed to import another 100,000 of sugar in one month in addition to an equal amount of the commodity arriving in Pakistan by mid of August.
Besides, he directed ensuring that the recent drop in edible oil in world markets is passed on to the domestic end-consumers, as Pakistan meets most of its edible oil and ghee demand through imports.
The meeting noted an uptick of 0.07% in price of the foods, which mostly remain under use on daily basis and grouped in the weekly Sensitive Price Index (SPI). Participants, however, expressed their satisfaction over the nominal increase in the prices in the wake of downward trend in weekly SPI over the past two months.
“The finance minister urged the respective district administrations and departments concerned to take stern administrative measures to keep the prices of essential items including vegetables in check on the occasion of upcoming Eidul Adha to eliminate undue profiteering,” according to a press statement issued by the Finance Division.
The finance secretary briefed the committee about a slight increase of 0.07% in weekly SPI “indicating price stability as compared to the previous weeks,” the statement said.
“The year-on-year weekly inflation is coming down for the last two months from a high of 17.23% on May 20, 2021 to 12.28% on July 8, 2021.”
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Similarly, the annual inflation reading fell to 8.9% in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021 (as reported on July 1) compared to 10.74% in the preceding fiscal year in the country. “Urban and rural inflation were at 8.15% and 10.05% as compared to 10.17% and 11.63%, respectively. Clearly, the inflation is coming down across all measures,” it said.
The finance minister constituted a working group under the umbrella of NPMC comprising of provincial chief secretaries, finance division secretary and representatives of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), Ministry of National Food Security & Research (MNFSR) and other relevant departments to workout measures for bringing price stability in basic commodities “by using mystery shopping exercise and building strategic reserves of key commodities namely wheat, sugar, pulses, ghee, tomatoes, onions and potatoes in order to eliminate undue profit margins and ensure availability of items of daily use at affordable prices across the country.”
Tarin also constituted a committee comprising of provincial chief secretaries, finance secretary, MNFS&R secretary, Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) chairperson and representative of PBS to “formulate an action plan and hold all those accountable who are involved in price-fixation and anti-competitive activities after fulfilling all codal formalities.”
The Ministry of Industries and Production secretary said prices of soya bean and palm oils have registered a decline in global markets after recording a significant increase in the recent past. The finance minister directed the ministry, CCP and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to take requisite actions to ensure that the current decline in international prices of edible oil is passed on to the domestic consumers soon.
“CCP has undertaken an inquiry in the edible oil and ghee sector to ascertain information and cross check facts regarding alleged collective price-fixing of retail prices of various products of cooking oil and ghee for different market segments,” commission chairperson informed the meeting.
Tarin directed the CCP to expedite inquiry and follow due course of action to put an end to anti-competitive activities. “No cartelisation will be allowed at any cost and strict action will be taken against hoarding and undue profiteering,” he affirmed to the meeting.
The CCP also shared findings about presence of 4,000 artis (middlemen) across 36 districts in Punjab dealing with the prices of basic vegetables. After reviewing the findings of the CCP, the finance minister directed to build a model framework in which DCs/ACs are assigned to monitor a specific number of middlemen to eliminate price manoeuvring. “Such model can be replicated in other provinces to minimise the price differential across the whole chain ie from farm gate to retail prices of basic commodities.”
The finance minister directed PBS to present a detailed variance analysis vis-a-vis weekly SPI highlighting food prices prevailing across mainstream cities and districts for real-time comparison.
The data would be used by the respective provincial administrations and departments concerned to ensure that notified rates are being followed across the board. This will minimise price differential between farm gate prices and retail rates.
The MNFS&R secretary apprised sufficient stocks of wheat are available in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2021.
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