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Saturday Nov 23 2019

Tomato politics over the years

Previous governments have also been haunted by the prices of tomatoes, and their reactions have been just as bizarre.—File photo

On Nov 11, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, an economist of international repute and the current advisor on finance to the prime minister, made a startling statement. Shaikh told a press gaggle that tomatoes were being sold in the open market for Rs 17 per kilogram. He further rubbished reports that the fruit's going rate was a whopping Rs250-300 per kg.

The very next day, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the special assistant to the prime minister on information, defended Shaikh's claim, adding that peas were priced at Rs5 per kg, rather than Rs20 per kg in the market.

This is the not the first time that officials have been out of touch with market realities.

Back in February, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, tasked to compile national data, gave a detailed presentation to the federal cabinet about the price hike in the country. During the meeting, Pervez Khattak, the defense minister, is reported to have cast aspersions on the authenticity of the PBS data.

Whoever, or whichever institution, has been feeding the government wrong data has been at it for a long time. In 2003, during the tenure of Gen Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan suffered a shortage of vegetables in the market. Instead of dealing with the crisis, ministers advised the public to only use seasonal vegetables in their meals.

Then, in 2013, then-Punjab food minister Bilal Yasin triggered public outrage when he told a female consumer to replace tomatoes with yogurt and lemons when cooking. Even in those days, tomatoes were priced beyond the common person's reach.

Over to 2017, a Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker tried to bring to the Sindh Assembly's notice the uptick in tomato prices in the most bizarre way. He wheeled in a large sack of the fruit and openly put it on display on the floor of the house.

In his address, he taunted: "Husbands are now gifting tomatoes to their wives as they have become so expensive."

Pakistan People's Party MPA, Saira Shahliani once called tomatoes so beautiful that they were needed to be priced higher than the rest of the fruits.

The unrealistic prices of basic commodities have haunted both civilian and military governments alike.

For now, Prime Minister Imran Khan has urgently ordered the formation of a special cell to keep a check on rising prices of fruits, vegetables, meat and other daily use products. But, before anything, maybe the men and women in power need a quick trip to the local market for a reality check?