ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday announced around Rs 1 trillion relief package aimed at providing financial support to different sectors of economy affected by the economic slowdown unleashed by coronavirus pandemic in the country.
During an interaction with media persons, the prime minister said the government has decided to allocate Rs 200 billion for the labour class, which has been hit hard in the difficult times. To help the industrial sector and especially the export sector, it has been decided to release tax refunds amounting to Rs 100 billion, besides deferring of the interest payment to bolster the sector, he revealed.
For the small and medium industry, and agriculture sector, another amount of Rs 100 billion has been set aside with deferred interest payment, the prime minister said, adding that concessional loans will also be extended to the sectors. Other packages, he said, include additional amount of Rs 50 billion for the Utility Stores, Rs 280 billion for wheat procurement, and slashing of petrol and diesel prices by Rs 15 per liter for which the government will have to bear the burden of Rs 75 billion. An amount of Rs 100 billion was allocated separately for the emergency situation, he added.
The prime minister said power consumers using 300 units and gas users with Rs 2,000 monthly bills will be facilitated to deposit their bills through three monthly instalments. A sum of Rs 50 billion has also been allocated for the medical staff. The National Disaster Management Authority will get Rs 25 billion for purchase and procuring of kits, he announced.
Imran Khan said for the vulnerable families who are bearing the brunt of the difficult time, it has been decided to allocate an amount of Rs 150 billion for a period of four months. He said the government is expanding the network of Panagah (shelter homes) where the precautionary measures have been strictly ensured. Besides, he said, it has been decided to either completely cut taxes or reduce them on different edible items. For the construction industry, the government will announce a separate package within days, which, he promised, has never been witnessed in the country’s history.
Reiterating that the country cannot afford a complete lockdown with the imposition of curfew, the prime minister said the situation in the country so far does not warrant resorting to that last step. However, he added, the government will review the situation after a couple of weeks. The provincial governments after the 18th Amendment can take their own decisions while the role of the federal government is only that of an advisory, he replied to a query. The federal government, he said, can only give guidelines but cannot direct provinces against their decisions. The provincial governments can react to a situation, but should also give consideration to the evolving situation. “God forbid, nobody knows the evolving situation, which may also compel us for the imposition of curfew after two weeks,” he added.
Comparing the situation in Spain, Italy, France and other European countries, the prime minister said with about 900 cases in Pakistan, the government team has been taking cognizance of the evolving situation regularly. Enforcing a curfew will lead to complete halting of transport, which can badly affect the food and medical supplies. Such steps can have strong damaging affects upon the society and economy, especially on the downtrodden or the poor class, who has been living in clusters in Katchi Abadis.
The prime minister, while differentiating between the lockdown and curfew, also shared his concerns that the evolving situation of the COVID-19 outbreak can stretch over to six months. “Whatever decisions the government takes, I am fully responsible for them. All the economic decisions are being taken with consensus of my economic team,” he added. To another question, he regretted that the economic situation had been improving in the country as the macroeconomic indicators witnessed rising, but the COVID-19 outbreak cast unintended consequences upon the economy.
The prime minister, to a question, replied that in case of emergency, the country will require a volunteer force comprising the youth, besides creation of funds. The youth and overseas Pakistanis will be tapped in such like scenario, he added.
Dilating upon the issue of complete lockdown, he further regretted that a confusion and impression has been created in the country. Taking wrong decisions at the current critical stage are more dangerous than the spread of coronavirus, he warned.
The prime minister said the government is extra cautious in taking certain steps, which should benefit the country and the nation. During the first National Security Committee meeting, when the country had reported just 21 cases, the gradual lockdown started with the closure of the schools, besides stoppage of public gatherings. In the past, decisions were taken for the interests of selected elite class and there were different systems for different classes, he said, and regretted that the same response is being also witnessed in the country over the coronavirus. The prime minister said it is a collective fight of the humanity and solely the government cannot fight it. The public response to the government’s measures like those witnessed in China is vital for achieving the objectives, he stressed, and urged the nation to fully cooperate with the government’s calls to control the spread of pathogen.
To another question, the prime minister said he fully believes in freedom of press, but accuracy and objectivity should be the hallmarks of journalists.
The role of the media is to counter panic in the society as it is more dangerous than the coronavirus, he added.