Centre plans ‘action’ against Sindh over ‘Wheat theft’


-Asad reveals Rs20 bln worth of Wheat theft in Sindh
-Terms Sindh Local Government law ‘unconstitutional’

From Zeeshan Mirza

Karachi: Planning Minister Asad Umar on Sunday said that the federal government will initiate legal action against the Sindh government over the “theft” of wheat worth Rs20 billion in the province.
Addressing a press conference in Karachi, the minister said that the price of a 20kg bag of wheat flour in Sindh was Rs300-350 more than Punjab even though the former is the largest producer of wheat in Pakistan.
According to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Rs20bn wheat was stolen in Sindh whereas the provincial government had said that the commodity was spoiled by rats, Umar added. He said that the issue will be raised in the National Assembly as well as the Sindh Assembly, as an explanation was necessary over the issue. Speaking about the coronavirus vaccination campaign, Umar said that the government managed to meet its vaccine target to vaccinate 70 million people in Pakistan by the end of this year.
The minister said that Rs250 billion were allocated by the federal government for a countrywide vaccination campaign that didn’t discriminate against anyone during the inoculation drive.
He also urged the people to take precautions amid a rise in Omicron cases across Pakistan. The federal minister also criticised Sindh’s local government law, saying that the earlier law was also in contradiction of Article 140A of the Constitution.
He said that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-Pakistan) and PTI had already moved the court against the previous law.
It is pertinent to note here that the recent amendments to the Sindh Local Government Act of 2013 are under severe criticism from the political stakeholders of the metropolis as well as the civic experts. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail had also returned the bill to the provincial assembly with 10 objections.
According to Umar, the Sindh government has proposed new amendments that will further erode the autonomy granted to the local bodies in light of the Constitution.
He said that the 18th Amendment had granted more powers to the federating units, which was a good thing, adding that there were some clauses in the amendment that could be reviewed for the sake of coordination.
He also maintained that there was a need to devolve power to a local level in a diverse country like Pakistan as this would prevent discord and instability.
Umar said that for the sake of democracy and Pakistan’s security, autonomous local bodies were mandatory in the light of the Constitution. He informed that the PTI legislated to this effect in Islamabad and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The ruling party will file a petition against these proposed amendments, he added.
In response to a question, he said that the mini-budget tabled in the National Assembly was made as per the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after intense negotiations between the government and the Fund.
He further mentioned that the Finance Ministry convinced the IMF to reduce the revenue target from over Rs700b to about Rs350b. Umar claimed that out of over Rs350b at least Rs262bn taxes will be refunded/adjustable whereas the public will be burdened with only Rs2b in taxes, which is not “much”.