Firdous defends forensic report delay after Shehbaz’ s allegations

SIALKOT: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on Sunday said the forensic audit report of the inquiry into the wheat flour and sugar crisis would be made public, apprising the people of all the facts and figures.
She rejected the allegations levelled by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)President Shehbaz Sharif about delay in the presentation of report. It was in fact a “cheap effort” by the opposition leader to keep himself in news. Prime Minister Imran Khan, she said, believed in an across the board accountability and that was why he had formed a commission to unmask the real faces behind the crisis. No one from the PM’s family was a beneficiary of the subsidy given for the export of sugar, she said while addressing a press conference here.
Dr Firdous said the commission comprising officials from the responsible institutions had to carry out the forensic audit of the last three years, so it required more time to complete the process in the most transparent manner. Its request for three-week extension in the deadline for completing the audit would be presented before the cabinet for approval.
The SAPM said Prime Minister Imran Khan had a clear stance that no political statement should be issued in the time of crisis to fight the coronavirus outbreak with national unity and cohesion. But unfortunately, Shehbaz Sharif was facing political isolation due to the internal politics of his party and that was why he had targeted the prime minister over the inquiry commission .
She reminded Shehbaz Sharif that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had not yet completed two years, whereas the subsidies were distributed among the Sharif family during the PML-N regime.
She questioned as to when Shehbaz would start accountability of the subsidies given to the Sharif family members by him as Punjab chief minister and his brother Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. She asked Shehbaz not to take Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed’s statement about the PML-N’s internal politics to his heart. It was an internal matter of PML-N if Maryam Nawaz wanted to appoint Shahid Khaqan Ababsi as the party president and the PTI leadership did not want to comment on it. she added.
She urged the opposition leaders that instead of political point scoring, they should augment the government’s efforts to defeat the coronavirus contagion and save the vulnerable segments of the society from the impacts of lockdown. The philanthropists should help the government by giving heavy donations for the purpose.
The special assistant stressed that it was the responsibility of different segments of the society, particularly the religious scholars to play their role in containing and defeating the contagion. She expressed the confidence that the Ulema would fulfill their responsibility regarding the implementation of 20-point Ramazan guidelines in order to avoid the spread of virus. She said now technology was being utilized to target and trace the infected people and put them in quarantine. The federal and provincial governments were already fulfilling their responsibilities but it was upto the the people to follow guidelines regarding isolation and social distancing, she added. Dr Firdous said a relief package for industrial workers had been prepared, which would be approved by the Economic Coordination Committee on Monday (April 27). The objective of the package was to protect the rights and livelihoods of the industrial workers, which was only possible when the burden of industries was also shared during the testing times. Therefore, the package envisaged relief measures for the owners of the industries and factories, she added.
The SAPM said the capacity of corona testing had been multiplied during the last few weeks, so increase in the number of cases was natural. On the first day, only 472 tests were done, whereas now over 8,000 tests per day were being conducted, she added. Initially only six labs were conducting the corona tests and now over 40 were doing the job, she said.
Dr Firdous expressed the hope that with the cooperation of people, the graph of corona affectees would be brought down and Eidul Fitar would bring a good news in that regard. She said doctors and paramedical staff were fighting as front line soldiers in the war against COVID-19 pandemic and the nation valued their services during the testing times. The government was committed to ensure the safety of doctors by providing all necessary equipment to them, she added. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday blasted Prime Minister Imran Khan for the delay in the report to be submitted by the sugar inquiry commission and termed it “proof of the premier’s guilt”.
The remarks came a day after the Sugar Forensic Commission (SFC) asked for an extension of three weeks’ time to submit the report. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar in a Twitter post on Saturday said that the commission had asked for an extension and the federal cabinet would consider their request on Tuesday. “The delay in the report is validation of the government’s theft of Rs100 billion. It is an attempt to protect those responsible for the sugar crisis,” Shehbaz said in a statement.
He added that “hiding the report would not hide Imran Khan’s crimes. The nation is aware of who stole wheat and sugar. There is no further need for inquiry or forensic audit.”
Shehbaz alleged that the federal cabinet, the Economic Coordination Committee and “those who had approved the subsidies” were responsible for the crisis. He also called for PML-N members — Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khurram Dastagir to be included in the inquiry commission, adding that then “matters would be clear”.
The SFC had been constituted by the government in the first week of April following the release of two separate inquiry reports of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on the issue of artificial shortage of sugar and wheat in the country and sudden increase in their prices last year. The inquiry report on sugar had revealed names of many bigwigs, including Jahangir Tareen, the former secretary-general of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and a close confidant of the prime minister, who had allegedly benefitted from the crisis.
After the release of the report, the opposition had demanded that the premier take stern action against those who had been declared responsible for the crisis by the FIA committee.
Prime Minister Khan had vowed to take action, but said he would do so after receiving the forensic audit report from the commission that he had constituted on the recommendation of the ‘initial’ reports. The commission comprises officials from a number of agencies and departments including the Intelligence Bureau and the Federal Board of Revenue.
‘Targeting the PM to save own political presence’
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan criticised Shehbaz for “doing politics in the time of coronavirus, even though the prime minister has urged to refrain from doing so”. Speaking at a press conference in Sialkot, Awan said that Shehbaz was trying to “save his political presence” by levelling allegations against Imran Khan. “Some people have too much free time, they are socially distanced in the political arena as well so they throw bombs at Imran Khan.”
The SAPM further said that such a commission had been made in Pakistan for the “first time”. She added that the commission had been given a mandate and it took time to conduct forensic audit and analysis which was why the commission had asked for more time.