Business leaders lobby federal govt for relief

Updated March 24, 2020

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Karachi Port Trust building and Customs House, usually bustling with activity, were deserted on Monday as the lockdown began. Docking and loading of ships at the port continued as normal however.
Karachi Port Trust building and Customs House, usually bustling with activity, were deserted on Monday as the lockdown began. Docking and loading of ships at the port continued as normal however.

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: The federal government was approached by a delegation of business leaders from the city of Karachi on the first day of the lockdown, who asked for sweeping relief measures to be able to weather the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh chaired the meeting via video link, with Governor Sindh Imran Ismail in attendance.

Advisers to Prime Minister on Commerce, Razak Dawood, Austerity and Institutional Reforms, Ishrat Husain and Petroleum, Nadeem Babar, were also present during the meeting.

Karachi-based industry leaders were in attendance, including Siraj Kassam Teli, Ziad Bashir and Aqeel Karim Dhedhi.

According to Teli, the business group asked for sweeping relief in taxes, interest rates, as well as gas and power charges for the next two months at least. Shaikh received the suggestions but was non-committal.

The government is faced with a challenging situation Shaikh explained, and its prime objective is to do three things.

“First is to contain the virus. Second is to provide health care facilities for those in need as well as essential food items at affordable rates and help to maintain enough cash in hand to the common man. Finally the government aims to provide help and assistance to the business community to run their businesses during the times of the pandemic without a permanent set back to the economy,” the adviser said according to a press statement issued by the Ministry of Finance.

The language of the release seems intended to remind the business community that the government is juggling multiple priorities and cannot over commit in any one area.

“Have faith that the government is there to support you,” the advisor is said to have told the businessmen and asked them to “look after the daily wagers” and workers who were outside the registered regime as helping them was also a social responsibility.

On the occasion, the businessmen — which included representatives from the garments and textile sector, pharmaceutical industry, Pakistan Stock Exchange and tourism and hotel industry — gave proposals regarding the issues they had been facing and the assistance they require from the government in the times of this crisis.

They requested that they should be enabled to look after their daily wagers in next two to three months and be provided with assistance to carry on their businesses with improvement of their liquidity position.

Secretary Finance informed that Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) had given proposal and mechanism to the Home Department Sindh to help trading at Pakistan Stock Exchange.

The food industry would remain open and continue business as usual and wherever needed the federal government would have a dialogue with the provincial authorities to facilitate the business and trader community.

Governor Sindh said that they had prepared food bags with the help of Utility Stores Corporation (USC) for the needy, which would soon be distributed.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2020