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Off the record: Letter authorising wheat subsidy for G-B goes missing

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT:

A letter from the 70s, authorising subsidised wheat for more than 1.5 million people in Gilgit-Baltistan, is missing from official records, reinforcing suspicions over foul play in the food department.

“The G-B chief minister asked for the letter, the original one or a copy, but the officials of the food department failed to provide it,” an official privy to the development told The Express Tribune on Wednesday. “They said the letter was not found in the records. CM Hafeezur Rehman got upset over the response and ordered officials to ensure the presence of the letter at all cost.”

The issue of the missing letter came to fore on Tuesday at a meeting chaired by the CM.

Sajjadul Haq, a spokesperson for the chief minister, confirmed the letter was missing. Haq said directives have been issued to the relevant department to find the letter.

Decades-old subsidy

The subsidy that has been in place for over four decades is said to have made the region a goldmine for influential mafia. Those with means are said to embezzle billions by misusing the wheat freight subsidy.

The letter in question was written in the 1970s by then chief minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, authorising wheat for G-B on subsidised rates. The subsidy on 1,500,000 bags continues till today in a region where a bag of 40 kilogrammes is available for about Rs600 to Rs700 – almost 50% less than what is charged in Punjab.

Startling disclosure

G-B Secretary Food Rai Manzoor told reporters in Gilgit earlier this week the food department did not even have equipment to weigh the wheat bags transported from Punjab.

“This is the state of affairs in the department. There are no weighing machines and we don’t even have the exact number of employees working there,” said Manzoor, who recently assumed charge. “But we are on it and will hopefully settle the matter.”

The G-B government recently announced it will purchase wheat from local farmers instead of buying from Punjab. As part of subsidy, federal government owes Rs30 billion to Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) that provides grain to the region.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2015.

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