PAC concerned over PASSCO labour contract

* Contract allegedly struck for private labour on political basis for wheat procurement

ISLAMABAD: The sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday expressed serious concerns over private labour contract on political basis for procurement of wheat by the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO). 
Members of the committee were of the view that given the private labour contract usually became headache for the parliamentarians relating to the concerned wheat producing areas. Now the application for private labour contract has being invited now, the convener of the sub-committee of PAC Sardar Aashiq Hussain Gopang said they have switched off their cell phones. The committee directed the ministry of National Food Security and Research (MFS&R) to revisit the policy and get rid the parliamentarians from giving favouritizm in provision of labour contract. 
Managing Director PASSCO Lt Col(r) Muhammad Younis informed the committee that it is a zonal issue and will be taken up in consultation with ministry of Food Security and Research. Briefing the committee over upcoming wheat production Secretary MFS&R Seerat Asghar said the recent past heavy rain across the country has both positive and negative impact on its production. Because in some areas the wheat crop landed but in some parts it provided water to the crops, he maintained. In this regard, the MFS&R asked the Punjab government to provide details over impact of rains on wheat crops. However, he expects the hope that the government would be able to achieve 25 million tons wheat production in the upcoming harvesting season. 
The government also fixed wheat procurement target of 1.6 million tons for PASSCO and some time it became difficult for the organization to achieve the target. Some times the market value of wheat is higher than the government announced procurement price and private sector purchase more on higher prices. In the coming procurement season, he said the government will see the market situation and prices o wheat in local and international market. If the international price for wheat is higher, then the private sector will procure more and the government agencies may confront problem to achieve the target. Higher international prices of wheat also became main cause of shortage of wheat at local market and smuggling of the commodity to neighbouring countries. 
About the availability of Bardana (empty wheat bag), the secretary informed the committee that all arrangement were made and assured that there will be no shortage for getting the Bardana. He further told the committee that usually the wheat procurement target was fixed by the federal government and procurement was carried out by the PASSCO in provinces. The areas of procurement was set by the provincial governments, therefore, some times the procurement agencies failed to procure the commodity according the target set by the government. 
The Audit officials informed the PAC that the PASSCO has spent Rs155.756 million during last eight years (2001 to 2009) as rent over the storage wheat in private storehouses but has no plan to construct own storehouses. MD PASSCO told the committee that open-storage is double cost to the organization as compared to close-house storage. When there is shortage of storehouse and the government set higher target for procurement, then the organization has to arrange open storage and it will cost more. He also claimed that several times proposal for construction of more storehouses to federal government but never honoured. 
The committee also expressed serious reservation over taking one kilogram wheat extra from farmers to cover the losses and wastage. Over this extra one kg wheat per 40 kg bag, the PASSCO chief said the organization has paid Rs1.1 billion to federal government during last four years. That is the main reason of lower wastage ratio in Pakistan (5 to 8 percent) while handling the wheat. The international standard of wastage of wheat is within the rage of 20 to 30 percent. The committee was of the view that the producers have to bear all sort of losses/wastage.

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