THE government’s decision to lift restrictions on goods transportation will help ease the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on the supply chain of food and other essential items. Suppliers and retailers were already facing a significant surge in demand for nonperishable food items and other necessities as people resorted to panic-buying in cities out of fear of possible shortages. Restrictions on inter-provincial and intercity movement and the distribution of goods designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected over 1,400 people and killed at least 12 in the country, also added to the pressure. Reports from different cities suggested that products such as wheat flour were disappearing from the shops as new supplies were being delayed. However, the centre’s timely intervention may have saved the situation. At a press conference after the Friday meeting of the National Coordination Committee regarding the situation in the wake of the lockdown ordered by the provinces, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced another important decision ie opening food-related industries to ensure adequate supplies to meet the spike in demand during the shutdown period.
Indeed, the free movement of goods is essential to avoid supply chain disruptions. But that is not all. Some disruptions are being caused by incompetence and the unwillingness of the bureaucracy to cooperate with producers. For example, the ghee and edible oil industry in Punjab is facing a shortage of vitamins because the railway authorities are refusing to release the consignments imported by the manufacturers. Similarly, the current process for essential and export industries of obtaining notified exemptions from the district administration for their operations is quite cumbersome. It would be much better if the powers to issue those waivers were given to the representative bodies to prevent delays in the domestic and export supply chain. At the same time, the government needs to strictly direct Customs and the port authorities to cut the red tape and help both importers and exporters bring in raw materials or send out shipments. Pakistan, like the rest of the world, is facing a very challenging and uncertain situation. The war against Covid-19 is going to be a long and difficult one. It’s time the government took effective measures to simplify its procedures and processes to cut the bureaucratic red tape in order to avert unnecessary disruptions in the domestic supply chain as well as delays in the country’s overseas shipments to protect as many jobs as possible.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020