THE paperwork has been completed, the systems are in place, the staff has been trained, helpline desks created, bank branches selected and application forms printed and distributed in the designated branches for the aspirants who qualify to avail this facility. Yet, the ‘Rozgar (employment) Scheme’ has not been launched. Why? No one in Islamabad seems to have a clue or so they pose.

The minister of state for finance Omar Ayub Khan in his June budget speech before the parliament announced this new initiative and promised before the nation to launch the Rozgar Scheme from July 1, 2006.

After a lapse of nearly two months when contacted over telephone Omar Ayub declined to give even a probable date of the launch. “I am in my constituency at the moment and am not aware of the date of the launch of the scheme”.

He mentioned the name of Sumera Malik, the federal minister for women development who he said was made responsible for the scheme and therefore would be in a better position to inform the press on the specific date of the launch. Several attempts to seek her comments on the issue from Islamabad proved futile.

It is not only the lady luck that seems to be dodging our underprivileged youth but the lady in-charge of the scheme is also too preoccupied to give attention to the plight of the unemployed young people of the country, at least so it seems.

Ashfaque Hasan Khan, advisor to the prime minister on economic affairs and official spokesperson of the government, who was referred to by the officials in the finance ministry, when contacted in Islamabad expressed his ignorance about the status of the scheme.

“Omar Ayub should be able to tell as he is the one who made this announcement”, he said. However, he said, he would try to contact the people concerned and share the probable date of the launch of the scheme with the newspaper. He was probably not able to get the expected launching date for he did not inform the Dawn as agreed.

Some seniors in the finance ministry associated with the banking sector when approached tried to give the impression that it was the bank and not the government that was responsible for the delay in the launch.

“It is a national scheme involving a lot of preparation on the part of the bank responsible. It would only be fair to allow the designated bank ample time to prepare for the challenge of successful launch of the President Rozgar Scheme”, an additional secretary who declined to own his comments said. “We will announce it in a due course of time”, he ended the conversation.

The Rozgar scheme envisages to create 400,000 jobs for people in the age bracket of 18-40 at the cost of Rs12 billions to the exchequer. Under the scheme small loans of Rs5,000-100,000 will be extended to qualifying candidates for: (a) community utility stores, (b) community transport scheme, and (c) community communication centers.

The National Bank of Pakistan has been asked to handle the scheme. The government pledged to provide the requisite support to the bank to manage the scheme professionally without compromising the commercial viability aspect.

The loan tenure of utility stores and transport scheme will be five years with three months grace period and that of communication centre will be two years with three months grace period. The mark-up, according to a source in the NBP will be at the rate of one year KIBOR+2 per cent that at the current rate comes to around 12 per cent.

The NBP President Ali Reza was not available for comments. Amir Siddiqui, the head of retail banking at NBP, who is responsible for the scheme within NBP, agreed to share some details of the scheme but was not able to reply to the pointed queries by Dawn before the deadline. The questions that were wire mailed included details of terms and conditions agreed between the bank and the government, the logic to select NBP for the management of the scheme, besides salient features of the scheme.

He, however, did confirm that the NBP was ready since last one month and was waiting for the government to fix the date for the launch. Another officer at the bank closely associated with this new tool appreciated the government’s swift response and cooperation of relevant departments in designing of the scheme. “I was pleasantly surprised at the pace and quality of the support that was extended to the bank. Normally files take much longer to move in Islamabad”, he said.

Some branches of NBP visited confirmed that they have received application forms and have made internal arrangements to handle the Rozgar scheme at their level. “We have the paraphernalia ready. The staff has also been briefed. Some officers are specially trained to assist the loan seekers and to carry out the initial scrutiny”, a manger of a local branch told Dawn on the condition of anonymity.

However, a credible source in the banking sector said that the scheme will be launched shortly with fanfare by the President of Pakistan. Independent commentator and an expert on political economy of Pakistan felt that the geo- political situation was primarily responsible for the delay in the launch of the scheme.

“The government needs all the public goodwill it could muster especially in wake of its declining graph of popularity. The Supreme Court decision in the Pakistan Steel case, commodity market scams one after the other, rising current account deficit, adverse balance of trade, souring of relations with India, strong anti- US sentiments for its support to Israel against Lebanon and partnership of Pakistan with US in so-called war against terror, continuing problems in Balochistan, internal strife in PML(Q), troubles in WANA, sweet/sour relationship with MQM. And list can go on and on. It would, therefore, be logical on the part of the government to time the launch of scheme in a way that it gets the maximum media coverage”, she said.

For the government, the Rozgar Scheme may be a political whip to beat the opposition or a ploy to earn political support of masses. For unfortunate, frustrated unemployed youth it could mean hope and a future.

The prospective beneficiaries are waiting for the launch of the micro credit scheme for self employment. For them, it means more than politics. For some it could be an issue of life and death. At such a high rate of unemployment when according to an estimate every eighth person in the 18-40 age bracket is unemployed and the NBP is ready, it would be unadviseable to delay the launch of Rozgar scheme any longer.

Updated Aug 21, 2006 12:00am

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