Multi-pronged relief package being worked out: official

Updated March 23, 2020

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Criteria for income support programme to be relaxed. — AFP/File
Criteria for income support programme to be relaxed. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The government is set to relax qualification criteria for beneficiaries of income support programme and relief in energy prices to both domestic consumers and big business as part of its rescue-cum-economic stimulus package.

A senior government official said the multi-pronged package would be applicable across the country without discrimination to help industries and businesses stand on their feet and support families of those people whose income and livelihood may have been affected by spread of coronavirus.

He said that various ministries, divisions and entities were still engaged in fine-tuning their proposals for the package to be announced by the prime minister on Tuesday.

“The cost of every intervention is being worked out based on various assumptions as to the period of its applicability and the process would continue on Monday despite being a public holiday,” said an official who has been part of this consultation.

The proposals for emergency bailout so far under active consideration include a further cut to key interest rate by the State Bank of Pakistan and instructions to tax authorities to adopt a friendly approach to businesses instead of raids and pressures for tax recoveries and diversion of BISP Funds to support families whose livelihood were at risk due to closure of small businesses, restaurants, retail business, daily wagers and factory workers etc.

The official said that about 30 million families were benefiting from the Benazir Income Support Programme based on a scorecard involving various parameters and family needs. This criteria will be brought down to include more families whose earning hands may have been affected by the closure of small and medium-size business like restaurants, transports, shops and so on for an interim period.

For this, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance & Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Special Assistant to the PM on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishthr held consultative sessions on Sunday to finalise contours of the special relief package being prepared for the people in the wake of coronavirus epidemic.

During the meeting, different options and proposals as part of the proposed package were discussed.

A senior official of the power division said that Energy Minister Omar Ayub and Secretary of Power Irfan Ali also shared with the finance ministry their proposed package for inclusion in the PM’s rescue and economic stimulant package. This involved a proposal for a freeze on quarterly tariff adjustments and monthly fuel price adjustments for six months to a year for domestic consumers.

There was also a proposal from the power division for recovery of electricity and gas bills from small businesses and shops in major urban centres affected by business closures in installments.

“We are trying to provide relief in electricity prices to the industry and large businesses as stimulant to economy,” said a senior official, adding that the true picture and cost of the effort was estimated to be huge though still not finally firmed up given the fact that it was not clear as to how long the coronavirus impact would continue in the shape of slowdown or shutdowns.

Some discounts are also coming in because of lower oil prices in the international markets and some trade offs were being calculated.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2020