ISLAMABAD: Approving a coronavirus relief package of Rs1,200 billion, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday took serious notice of suspension of goods transport in the country despite his earlier order for its restoration and tasked Rangers in Sindh with ensuring its implementation by taking appropriate measures for movement of trucks and opening of industries amid a complete lockdown in the province.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the federal cabinet which also approved issuance of Rs700bn Domestic Sukuk Bonds (DSB) for three years to provide some support to the country’s economy being affected by the global coronavirus pandemic and address the issue of liquidity.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan was quite annoyed that the decision taken by the National Coordination Committee (NCC), in which all provinces and mainstream opposition parties have representation, was not implemented in letter and spirit by the Sindh government by not easing the movement of goods transport from the country’s commercial hub and port city Karachi,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference.
She said the NCC had decided that all the four provinces and the governments of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan would ensure the movement of goods transport to ensure adequate supply of essential food items, but Sindh had so far not adhered to the decision. “The prime minister observed that as a result of lack of goods transport, shortages of some basic food items, including wheat flour, have been reported in many parts of the country which also caused a sharp increase in prices of kitchen items,” she added.
“If relevant industries are still closed due to lockdown in Sindh and if there are no labourers and loaders at Karachi Port, the movement of goods transport will remain suspended. Therefore, the prime minister has tasked Rangers with removing all hurdles in the way of goods transport,” she said.
Imran annoyed over Sindh government’s non-cooperation in implementing NCC decision; cabinet approves Rs1.2tr coronavirus relief package
At a separate press conference, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said the prime minister has called the 6th meeting of the NCC on Wednesday (today) to again ask the provincial governments to implement the decision about restoration of goods transport and opening of industries which were closed due to the countrywide lockdown.
About the cabinet’s decision to approve the issuance of Rs700bn DSB, Dr Awan said such bonds had been issued 19 times in the past by previous governments. “It is another step towards promotion and enhancement of Islamic banking which Malaysia has already done successfully. The bonds will address our issue of liquidity,” she added.
Interestingly, such bonds are floated against a state asset but the government has not officially mentioned against which asset it is issuing the bonds. The present government had last year issued such bonds against some motorways and national highways.
A source, who attended the cabinet meeting, told Dawn that this time the Sukuk bonds were being floated against the land of Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. However, when Asad Umar, Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar and Dr Awan were contacted, they remained silent on the matter.
The source said the government would get liquidity [money] from some banks on interest for three years by mortgaging the land of Jinnah International Airport.
Talking about the coronavirus relief package for the poor and daily wage earners, Dr Awan said Rs150bn would be distributed among 12 million families which comprised one-third of the country’s total population.
She added that SAPM on Social Welfare Dr Sania Nishtar briefed cabinet on the package and said a four-month stipend of Rs12,000 would given to the deserving families through SMS service under the existing data of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and through fresh registration of the poor and daily wagers by the deputy commissioner offices and provincial governments.
“The prime minister also asked all ruling party [Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf] leaders, MNAs and MPAs to help [the government] in fair and transparent distribution of the relief fund to the needy people who have been worst affected by the adverse impact of coronavirus on the country’s economy,” she added.
Dr Awan said the cabinet also approved adoption of recommendations and protocols of the International Labour Conference and decided to make a national database of all informal workers and daily wagers in the country so that they could be given due rights like health facilities and social and job securities.
The meeting also called for reforms in sick national entities like the Pakistan Railways, Pakistan International Airlines and Federal Board of Revenue as they had become liabilities on the country.
Dr Awan said the role of the opposition was not supportive for the government in the prevailing situation when unity among all segments of society was the need of the hour. “Leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif is doing nothing to help out the nation during coronavirus crisis and only giving oxygen to his politics by wearing a mask and sitting in front of a computer,” she added.
The PM’s assistant said the government had invited Shahbaz Sharif to give fruitful suggestions, but he was criticising the government for mere criticism and not for mitigating the sufferings of the people. “He [Shahbaz Sharif] belongs to one of the richest families in the country and, therefore, he should first deposit something in the PM’s fund formed to help people during war against the deadly virus,” she added.
Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2020