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Flour crisis: Treasury, opposition members trade barbs in Senate

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The prevailing flour crisis in the country echoed in the Senate on Friday, as the Treasury members blamed the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for it while the opposition grilled the federal government for the worrying situation.Some remarks from the opposition and government sides were expunged by Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani as the House met for its first sitting of the 324th session. The PTI was accused of creating an artificial wheat and flour crisis to lay blame on the federal government.

At one point, the chair had to repeatedly ask one lady senator of the PTI to go back and resume her seat, asking, “Where are you headed?” The PTI Senator was upset over remarks by a PPP lady member against Imran and his ex-cabinet members. Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad, in his hard-hitting speech, spared no one while raising the issue of wheat and four crises in the country. He pointed out that there was the worst shortage of commodities in the markets countrywide, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He continued that the flour crisis was followed by a shortage of gas and electricity in the current winter season.

He claimed that for the first time, not only people but also women and kids had come on the roads to protest against the shortage of flour in the province. He noted that flour is in abundance in the country but is being smuggled to Afghanistan despite border fencing and the deployment of army, paramilitary forces, and police on the border. “Who is smuggling flour to Afghanistan?” he questioned, adding that the governments were involved in this corruption.

“Who is the flour thief, who are the wheat thieves, and who are the dollar thieves, and why are they not caught? The flour thieves are sitting in the houses, so they are not caught,” he charged. He demanded that the federal and provincial governments inform him who was responsible for the shortage of life’s necessities.

“The hoarders and flour smugglers are sitting in parliament,” he said, explaining why flour prices are not being controlled. He regretted that Ishaq Dar could not control the dollar while there was a shortage of flour, bread, and medicines in the country.

Mushtaq demanded that the country’s VVIP culture be abolished, that concessions are withdrawn from all privileged groups, and that money be spent on the welfare of the poor.

About details of parliamentarians’ assets released by the election commission, a JI legislator said that politicians were becoming millionaires and billionaires but the poor were not getting food. He demanded that the privileges, concessions, and VVIP protocol being given to judges, generals, parliamentarians, the bureaucracy, and government functionaries be immediately withdrawn.

ANP Senator Hidayat Ullah Khan also raised the issue of the flour crisis and high prices of commodities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said that there was a huge difference in prices of the commodity in Punjab and KP, despite the PTI being the ruling party in both provinces.

He said that mills should be provided with wheat that has been stored in government stores to make flour available. He also raised concerns about mismanagement at the government-owned public storage corporation, which the chair referred to the relevant standing committee.

PPP Senator Robina Khalid endorsed the other lawmakers and said that the people were in distress in the KP due to the flour crisis. “It is unfortunate that there was a huge difference in prices of the commodity in the province.”

The question hour was eventful, and members exchanged barbs over the use of a helicopter by erstwhile PM Imran Khan from his Banigala residence to the PM House, which cost the nation Rs 432.43 million from 2019 to March 2022.

After the question hour, Leader of the Opposition and PTI Senator Dr. Shahzad Waseem rose to refer to the proposed dissolution of the Punjab Assembly and the expected similar fate of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

“The PTI and Imran have decided to sacrifice their governments for a major cause, which will pave the way for general elections,” he contended.

He came hard on the incumbent rulers and dubbed the government as “proclaimed offenders” while questioning the logic behind the treasury members’ criticism of using helicopters daily for such a short journey of 9.3 KMs and spending the nation’s Rs 0.8 million daily, which State Minister Shahadat Awan claimed was equal to 800 laborers’ daily wages of Rs 1,000 per day.

The leader of the opposition said the rulers’ performance was confined to advertisements and making foreign tours. He claimed they had heard another Rs 2 billion had been earmarked for ads.

“The government trumpeted over $9 billion in loans, which it claimed was an aid, while its finance minister clarified that these are loans,” he said.

Senator Shahzad continued that the rulers wanted to run away from elections, but the PTI would not let them go away and drag them towards elections and before the people, and they would be held answerable for their “misdeeds.” He asked if it was not contemptible that they were not holding elections.

He claimed the rulers were not capable of even contesting local body elections and were now trying to run away from Sindh LG polls before doing so in the federal capital. “After getting pardoned for their corruption, now they are trying to do more corruption.” People are crushed under their feet and killed for the sake of a flour bag. The industry is closed. “But they want to run the country in their old style, which is impossible now because the people and Imran are on one page and united,” he noted.

He warned that efforts were being made to distort the facts surrounding Imran Khan’s assassination attempt, as revealed by the JIT, as a plot was hatched to eliminate him after they failed politically.

The Leader of the Opposition claimed that the PTI government had turned the economy around, with a growth of six percent when their government was ousted and that the PDM government had ruined the country during these months.

Earlier, during the question hour, the house was informed that during his three years, eight months, and 23 days of government, then-PM Imran had used a helicopter, and the total hours of VVIP missions were 1579.8, while Rs 434.43 million were incurred on these.

State Minister Shahadat Awan said that a PM who wanted to fix politicians and bureaucrats planned an austerity drive and promised to be part of it as well but opted for travel that cost the nation Rs 0.8 million daily. He noted the Public Accounts Committee had taken notice of the recovery and directed the NAB as well to look into it. He said that the matter may be referred to the standing committee concerned.

Senator Behramand Tangi, who had asked the question, wondered how a PM could cost the nation such a colossal amount in the name of austerity while his federal minister would say his helicopter cost Rs 55 per kilometer, whereas Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi clarified that in aviation, hours and not kilometers were counted.

However, the House witnessed noisy scenes when Senator Tangi tagged Imran and his family as thieves, triggering commotion on the opposition benches, and PTI senators gathered around the dais of the chair and chanted slogans against the senator.

In response to the president’s address to the joint session of Parliament, JUIF Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri claimed that the president should be impartial but that the incumbent was supporting a party and had rejected a summary for the Senate session.

Towards the end of the sitting, the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Tangi exchanged hot words after the latter labelled former prime minister Imran Khan as morally, politically, professionally, and financially corrupt.

He also accused the PTI chief of playing the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Pakistan. The House will now resume on Monday afternoon.

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