ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Shaukat Tarin, on Monday, ordered initiation of administrative measures to keep the prices of essential items, including vegetables, in check on the occasion of upcoming Eidul Azha and asked Ministry of Industries to procure another 100,000 tons of sugar in due course.
Chairing a meeting of the National Price Monitoring Committee (NPMC), the finance minister constituted a Committee comprising provincial chief secretaries, secretary finance, secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research (M FS&R), chairperson Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), and representative of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) to formulate and take action after fulfilling all codal formalities against all those involved in price-fixation and anti-competitive activities.
Secretary Ministry of Industries and Production briefed the NPMC about the international price trends of edible oil.
After an increase in prices of soya bean and palm oils, the international prices have now registered a decline.
Shaukat Tarin directed the Ministry of Industries and Production, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to take the requisite actions to ensure that current decline in the international prices of edible oil is passed on to the domestic consumers. The chairperson CCP told the meeting that the CCP has undertaken an inquiry into the edible oil and ghee sector to ascertain information and cross-check facts regarding alleged collective price-fixing of retail prices of various products of cooking oil and ghee for different market segments.
The finance minister directed the chairperson CCP to expedite inquiry and follow due course of action to put an end to anti-competitive activities.
No cartelisation will be allowed at any cost and strict action will be taken against hoarding and undue profiteering, he affirmed.
The Secretary Finance briefed the Committee about a slight increase of 0.07 percent in weekly Sensitive Price Index (SPI), indicating price stability as compared to the previous weeks.
The NPMC also reviewed the year-on-year weekly inflation, after it was informed that year-on-year weekly inflation has been decreasing for the last two months.
Similarly, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) (as released on 01 July 2021) showed an annual inflation at national level at 8.9 percent, which was down from 10.74 percent a year ago, while urban and rural inflation were at 8.15 percent and 10.05 percent as compared to 10.17 percent and 11.63 percent, respectively.
The meeting was informed that inflation is coming down across all measures.
The finance minister constituted a working group under the umbrella of the NPMC comprising provincial chief secretaries, secretary Finance Division and representatives of the PBS, Ministry of NFS&R and other relevant departments to work out measures for bringing price stability in basic commodities by using mystery shopping exercise and building strategic reserves of key commodities namely wheat, sugar, pulses, ghee, tomatoes, onions and potatoes, in order to eliminate undue profit margins and ensure availability of items of daily use at affordable prices across the country.
The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) was also directed to present a detailed variance analysis vis-a-vis weekly SPI, highlighting food prices prevailing across mainstream cities/districts for real-time comparison.
The data would be used by the respective provincial administrations and departments concerned to ensure that notified rates are being followed across the board.
This will minimise price differential between farm gate prices and retail rates.
The CCP also shared its findings with the meeting about the presence of 4,000 middlemen (artis) across 36 districts in Punjab dealing with the prices of vegetables.
After reviewing the findings of the CCP, the finance minister directed to build a model/framework in which deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners are assigned to monitor a specific number of artis to eliminate price manoeuvring.
Such model can be replicated in other provinces to minimise the price differential across the whole chain, i.e., from farm gate to retail prices of basic commodities.
The secretary Ministry of NFS&R apprised the NPMC that sufficient stocks of wheat are available in the country.
He also said that arrangements are under way for importing wheat for building strategic reserves (as approved by the ECC) and the whole process would be completed soon.
The secretary also updated the NPMC that arrangements have been made to import one lac tons of sugar by 15th August 2021.
The finance minister directed to procure another 100,000 tons of sugar in due course of time to ensure the depth of strategic reserves of key commodities for price stability.
The secretary Industries and Production further said that sufficient reserves of sugar will be available till the arrival of the new sugarcane crop.
The meeting was attended by Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhar Imam, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, SAPM on Finance and Revenue Dr Waqar Masood, secretary Finance Division, secretary Ministry of Industries and Production, secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research, chairman Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), provincial chief secretaries, MD PASSCO, MD Utility Store Corporation, chairman CCP, deputy commissioner Islamabad, and other senior officers of the Finance Division.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021