PAC approves report on collusion in fixing sugar prices

Published On: November 21, 2018 10:30 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, Nov 21: The parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has endorsed the report submitted by a sub-committee, which among others, calls for an investigation into the recent artificial price hike of sugar, particularly during the festival season.

Some committee members, however, criticized the initiative to hold discussion on pricing of sugar by traders and sugar mills, arguing that it would be too late to issue instructions based on the report as the price was raised in an arbitrary manner only during the recently-concluded festival season 

The report of the sub-committee, which was formed to look into rising prices of essential commodities ahead of the Dashain festival, concludes that various government officials and sugar mills had colluded to artificially drive up sugar price. The sub-committee has also recommended to the PAC to instruct the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) to investigate into such ‘collusion’.

Though the sub-committee had submitted its report on October 12, the committee could not find time to hold a meeting and endorse the report due to festival holiday. The meeting was finally held on Tuesday, more than a month after the sub-committee submitted its report.

“The festival season is already over. Customers have already bore the brunt of the price hike. The endorsement of the report now will merely be a formality,” said Minendra Rijal, a member of the committee. He also said that also those involved in artificial price hike should be brought to book.

“To make sure that the problem does not come to haunt customers next year, the government should start working now. It should identify problems of sugarcane farmers and address them so that the price does not go out of its control,” he added.

Some members of the committee expressed concerns over the delay in release of payments to cane farmers by sugar mills.

Speaking at the meeting, Birodh Khatiwada, another member of the committee, said that the government should get each and every detail from sugar mills -- like the quantity of canes that they will be purchasing from farmers and the quantity of sugar that they will be producing. “From this information, the government can decide on restriction on sugar imports,” he said. “Otherwise, sugar mills will only be benefiting from the restriction while customers will always be at the receiving end,” he added.

The proposal comes in the wake of sudden rise in sugar price after the government imposed import restriction on sugar as per the request of sugar mills.

Earlier on September 17, the government fixed sugar import quota for the current fiscal year at 100,000 tons. The import restriction aimed at protecting the Nepali sugar industry and providing domestic production an easy access to the market has instead driven up the price of sugar in the market. Many groceries were found to be charging up to Rs 80 for a kilogram of sugar after the import restriction was imposed. The price before the restriction was Rs 60 per kg.

While the committee drew flak from its members for not endorsing the sub-committee’s report in time, PAC Chairman Bharat Kumar Shah said that the committee had already issued instruction to the government to ensure that the price of sugar does not go above Rs 63 per kg. “The instruction to the government to fix the sugar price at Rs 63 per kg was already issued. If the committee had not issued the directive, the sugar price could have crossed Rs 100 per kg,” said Shah. 

“It is not that sugar is consumed only during festivals. So, the report and the instruction will help in curbing the anomaly in the market,” he argued.

PAC to grill tourism ministry, NAC officials on aircraft procurement
KATHMANDU, Nov 21: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has decided to summon officials of Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) and Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) to discuss about alleged irregularities on purchase of two wide-body aircraft.

The PAC’s move to grill the senior officials from the ministry and the national flag carrier comes in the wake of allegations and news reports suggesting possible irregularities in the procurement process. The PAC has invited tourism secretary and NAC Managing Director to attend its meeting on Sunday.

“There are various issues on aircraft procurement including whether they were purchased or brought in lease. The next meeting will discuss the matter with the MoCTCA and NAC officials,” PAC Chairman Bharat Kumar Shah said.

Speaking at the meeting, PAC member Minendra Rijal, who is also a leader of the main opposition Nepali Congress, sought investigation into the possible irregularities in aircraft procurement.

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