Misappropriation of billions of rupees: Probe launched against 149 flour mills

The News

LAHORE: The Punjab government has launched a probe into alleged misappropriation of billions of rupees in subsidized wheat by flour mills.

The Provincial Food Department has been asked to submit all documents relating to release of wheat to flour mills and subsequent grinding and distribution of flour. This data of each mill will be compared with electricity consumption to gauge failure in producing required quantity of bags.

Certain flour mills owners have been accused of pocketing billions of rupees by selling highly subsidized wheat in open market at exorbitant rates instead of grinding it. The provincial government has just concluded an inquiry into the Ramzan Package 2018 and consequently slapped hefty fines on many owners of flour mills.

Reacting to the fresh and bigger inquiry, the central leadership of the Pakistan Flour Mills Association (PFMA) on Saturday expressed reservations over initiation of what they call a close investigation into the Ramzan Package 2017. The Provincial Anti-Corruption Department has sought all records of wheat grinding by flour mills and electricity usage during the Ramzan Package 2017, said a perturbed central leader of PFMA’s ruling group.

“The government don’t want to let us run flour mills,” observed Habib Leghari in an audio message to fellow owners of flour mills. This probe was already concluded and mills found guilty paid fine at that time, he said, adding that now it is incomprehensible why the government again decided to start investigations.

The modus operandi of such investigations is just to match grinding of wheat with consumption of electricity. They don’t rely on data of flour bag produced or distributed, Leghari said. In this way, he maintained, such a probe is considered an excess and injustice to flour mills. The provincial government already investigated the Ramzan Package 2018 and imposed fine on certain flour mills, he said and added when this unending series of action would stop.

It may be noted that Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar on last Friday said some Rs 254 million of the Ramzan Package 2018 had been misappropriated by 149 flour mills tasked to provide flour to people at subsidised rates. He said out of Rs 254 million, Rs 190 million have already been recovered and deposited into the national exchequer, while action is also being taken against 156 officials of the Food Department.

The Anti-Corruption Department has started criminal proceedings against 70 officials of the Food Department, who were directly involved in misappropriation of wheat subsidy. As many as 149 flour mills were involved in the embezzlement of wheat from out of a total of 687 mills.

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