‘Targeted’ subsidy for poor to be okayed by cabinet today

Updated February 11, 2020

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Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday held a meeting with his economic team and high-ups of social safety nets. The meeting discussed several plans to give relief to the poor through the targeted subsidy. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday held a meeting with his economic team and high-ups of social safety nets. The meeting discussed several plans to give relief to the poor through the targeted subsidy. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to provide some relief to the common man amid an unusual price hike in the country, the government has decided to give “targeted” subsidy to the low income group.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday held a meeting with his economic team and high-ups of social safety nets. The meeting discussed several plans to give relief to the poor through the targeted subsidy.

The economic team and relevant officers kept finalising the “relief plan” till late in the night. The plan will be unveiled by the prime minister on Tuesday in the cabinet meeting.

A source privy to the meeting told Dawn that under the plan an additional subsidy of Rs10 billion would be given to the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) for its over 5,000 outlets for giving relief to people whose monthly income ranged between Rs25,000 and Rs30,000. The source said the Rs10bn subsidy would be in addition to the already provided Rs7bn subsidy to the USC.

Issuance of ration cards to the low income group was one of the options discussed at the meeting. The cards will enable the holders to purchase basic consumer items like wheat flour, pulses, rice, sugar, ghee/edible oil on subsidised rates.

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Asked how the government will identify genuine and deserving people for the subsidy, the source said the data of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and grade1-6 government employees would be obtained and a list of deserving people would be prepared. He said the computerised data of deserving people would be available at all utility stores across the country and whenever a genuine person would go for shopping at these outlets, his thumb impression would be taken and his name would automatically be displayed on the cash counter as a deserving buyer.

The source said that according to one of the options, funds already given to the government flagship programme called Ehsaas could be used to provide subsidy to the USC. Soft loans could also be given to the youth to establish their small grocery shops at the union council level where they would be supplied essential food items directly through mills or USC so that they could match the rates of essential commodities being sold at utility stores.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh was not present at the meeting, which was attended by Special Assistant to the PM on Social Welfare Sania Nishtar, USC chairman Zulfikar Ali Khan and federal secretaries of different ministries. However, Dr Hafeez was seen at another meeting chaired by the prime minister on arrangements for the visit of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who is due in the country on Feb 14 to address a joint sitting of the parliament.

Earlier, a press release issued by the Prime Minister Office said the announcement regarding PM Khan’s decision to provide relief to the common man would made in a meeting of the federal cabinet.

It said the prime minister was of the view in the Monday’s meeting that the government would provide relief to the low income group at every cost. He was quoted as saying: “The government cannot act like a silent spectator on the pain and sufferings of the people.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) parliamentarians on Monday said that the government would take special steps to curtail prices of essential commodities to provide relief to the people.

Talking to reports outside the Parliament House, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Capital Development Authority (CDA) Affairs Ali Nawaz Awan said inflation was a great challenge for the present government which inherited because of previous governments’ wrong policies and corruption.

“The present government is making efforts to provide maximum relief to the common man,” he added.

Senator Seemi Ezdi said poor people were very close to the heart of PM Khan, adding that prices of essential commodities would come down soon.

MNA Sadaqat Ali Abbasi said the government was taking steps to overcome the inflation and providing special relief to the poor people. He said the government would also expose the mafia behind the wheat and sugar crises in the country. “All this inflation is due to wrong policies of previous governments,” he added.

MNA Sheikh Rashid Shafique said the government would announce special relief package in the cabinet meeting soon. He said the present government was committed to overcome inflation in the country. “Relief stores would be established at each union council,” he revealed.

Govt’s economic team

In a separate meeting with the government’s spokespersons, the prime minister revealed that a number of new USC outlets would be established in the country under the public-private-partnership to overcome the persisting food inflation in the country.

A participant of the meeting, who did not want to be named in the story, told Dawn that the prime minister revealed that people would be given incentives for establishing more utility stores where essential food items will be available at lower rates.

The prime minister, he said, was unhappy with the government’s economic team and stressed the need for its more interaction with the media so that the government fiscal policies could be highlighted more and more in the media.

Shabbar won’t return

The prime minister revealed that Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Shabbar Zaidi could not continue his job due to illness and he would not return. Mr Zaidi is presently on leave on medical grounds.

However, the prime minister removed uncertainty regarding some more changes in the government’s economic team and said Dr Hafeez Shaikh and State Bank Governor Dr Reza Baqir will continue to serve on their present positions.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2020