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The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) led by FIA Director General Wajid Zia, constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan to probe the wheat flour crisis, has not yet contacted the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) to get its perspective on any possible cartelization behind the crisis, sources informed Business Recorder.

Taking strict notice of the recent wheat flour crisis in the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan had constituted a high-level committee with representation from FIA and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The committee was tasked to identify and fix responsibility, if any, on any individual/officer/organisation, including any purported benefit to a private party, besides suggesting a way forward for future course of action.

The committee comprised Director General of the Federal Investigation Authority Wajid Zia, as its convener, and representative of the Intelligence Bureau not below BS-20/21 and the Director General Anti-Corruption Punjab, as its members. The convener may co-opt any other member(s).

The JIT has submitted its report to the Prime Minister in the first week of February 2020, and reportedly it had fixed responsibility for the wheat crisis on the Federal Food Security Ministry, the provincial governments, the district governments, and the commission to their failure to play a role in averting the crisis.

Interestingly, the CCP had passed an order on 13 December 2019, imposing a penalty of Rs 75 million on Pakistan Flour Mills Association (PFMA) for collusive practices including price fixing of atta. In February again, the CCP raided the PFMA head office in Lahore on the charges of cartelization and confiscated its record for further investigation.

Despite these enforcement actions, the JIT has neither made any contact with the CCP nor wrote any letter seeking information about its role in the crisis. The prime minister on last Friday told journalists that he has returned the report to JIT with a few observations and directed it to come with comprehensive recommendations.

Sources confirmed that the CCP has not been contacted by the JIT to seek input on the actions taken by the commission in this regard. Sources said that the CCP has geared up its enforcement pace, particularly in the wheat and sugar sector, where it is also doing cost audit of big mills to ascertain their production quantities, cost, and profit margins. This is despite the fact that most of the CCP's orders are pending in different courts, hampering the recovery of penalties worth 27 billion rupees.

The Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce & Industry (OICCI) in its latest Perception and Investment Survey 2019 ranked CCP the highest in comparison with the other regulatory bodies. The survey reported stated: "The Competition Commission of Pakistan far bettered amongst all the regulatory bodies with over 99 percent of the respondents showing satisfaction with its performance, followed by the Board of Investment scoring 88 percent favourable responses."

In her separate briefings to the Prime Minister and the cabinet, the CCP chairperson Vadiyya Khalil highlighted the work being done to promote competition in the economy. The prime minister has already directed the Law Ministry to help CCP in overcoming the legal and constitutional challenges and an early disposal of its pending cases in Lahore High Court and other courts.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020