Sugar snafu

Keen observers of trends believe that the President’s wherewithal of “appointing” himself as Agriculture secretary is an avant-garde act. FM Jr.’s hands-on approach — certainly not micro-managing — unfolds as a surefire counter-measure to the “business-as-usual” ethos that has long characterized “wicked” governance in a “bloated” bureaucracy.

The President’s tack nipped the sugar crisis in the bud, when the bureaucracy appears all woven in corruption, self-aggrandizement, and officialdom at nearly all levels from top to bottom involved in graft. It then takes a champion whose healthy bias for public interest is “consistent with nothing else,” to paraphrase a Harvard scholar.

There must have been a priori knowledge by FM Jr., himself of a besieged Department of Agriculture so badly in need of a “power from above.” One can ordinarily imagine how that is not going out of the President’s comfort zone to swing from Mendiola to Diliman and back just to synergize the affairs of DA lest food security leads to unimaginable consequences.

In a “comedy of errors,” however, a senator of the Minority bloc cried wolf, claiming FM Jr. cannot do both — as President and DA secretary — just when no one in his right mind would deny of the presence of “clear and present danger” to food security. The sugar snafu that led to the resignation of top SRA officials simply showcases said agency as an island of inefficiency within DA. The sugar crisis is a mathematical issue.

Events that followed prove the justification of the resigned SRA head of the need to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar wrong. FM Jr., after a lickety-split consultation with millers and refiners or major stakeholders in the sugar industry, arrived at only half the volume, or 150,000 metric tons to address the shortage of domestic supply. For the SRA head, to import the huge volume of sugar absent the President’s tacit approval is deemed an “administrative overstretch” based on equivalent money value that has breached billions (i.e., 1.2 billion), give or take.

So, goes the math. If a 50-kilo bag of raw sugar costs P2,000 and refined sugar P2,900, respectively, how much would 300,000 metric tons amount to, or even just half that volume? At the current price of local sugar, it is also said that Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam sell theirs in peso value at half that of ours. Who then benefits from imported sugar? Who has more sugar in their stockpile that they plan to sell to distort the law of supply and demand to their absolute advantage?

Owing to the soaring prices of sugar in the market, an ensuing government clampdown shows the alarming pattern of sugar hoarding if not uninterrupted smuggling. However, a scenario seems in play using SRA as a tool to import more sugar for traders to derive windfall proceeds through profit-driven cartel. Hoarded bags of sugar in tens of thousands in huge warehouses are the unknown variables to the mathematical question of whether to import based on reasonable estimates.

That being so, SRA becomes a big case of “state capture.” Thus, FM Jr.’s timely intervention should serve notice to big traders of other agricultural products that government is tightening its grip against unjustified importation, smuggling, hoarding, or cartels that artificially drive a price spiral of this basic commodity.

While the successful raids of the Bureau of Customs at customs bonded warehouses appear commendable, running after the alleged culprits when the goods or merchandise already left the gates is rather disconcerting. Who actually failed in their mandates when this situation arises: Is it the DA or the BoC? Are their respective mandates and authority conflicted?

Until we realize and correct the apparent conflict of functional authority and jurisdiction every time an agricultural product or commodity enters our shores — by land, air, or sea — then, the vicious “business-as-usual ethos” preserves its corrupting influence upon the State. There must be an old “invisible hand” of crony capitalism in this sugar issue or two-bureau “enablers” colluding, while bad guys laugh all the way to the bank.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *