Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday elevated the status of the construction sector to that of an industry while announcing incentives for investors and businessmen as the government tries to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
While speaking to journalists, the premier said that a board will also be formed to address all issues and matters related to the industry. He added that all industries that are connected to construction will continue to function even during the lockdown.
He said that the reason he was paying attention to the construction sector was that it generated jobs for daily wage workers, many of whom have lost their income due to the ongoing lockdown.
The main incentives announced by the premier include:
All the people investing in the construction sector this year will not be questioned about their source of income.
The tax rate will be fixed for the construction sector, and constructors will be charged tax per square foot or square yard.
People carrying out construction in the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme for the poor will only have to pay 10 per cent of the fixed tax.
Withholding tax will be waived off for all construction sectors except the formal sectors of steel and cement.
Sales tax will be reduced in coordination with provinces.
Any family selling their house will not have to pay any capital gains tax.
A subsidy of Rs30 billion to be given for the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme.
Construction sector to be given the status of an industry.
Construction Industry Development Board to be set up to support the sector.
The prime minister said that the government aimed to "find a balance" between continuing a lockdown and avoiding unemployment.
He said that the Western countries were facing the coronavirus on one hand and economic fallout on the other.
But "in Pakistan, we have corona on one hand and poverty on the other," he told reporters and added: "You cannot lock up 220 million people."
The premier expressed concerns that if the lockdown continued for a long time, people would become "desperate and come out on the streets. Not only would that lead to a spike in infection rate but also worsen the economic situation."
"We have a challenge on our hands," he said while responding to a question. "There is corona on one side and hunger on the other. How can we tell a person who is hungry to stay inside?"
Prime Minister Imran said that Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has also raised similar concerns regarding a lockdown.
He further said that the two-month-long lockdown had worked in Wuhan — believed to be the epicentre of Covid-19 — because the Chinese government delivered food to people in their homes.
He also shone a light on the government's efforts to provide relief to those who have been affected by the lockdown, saying that thousands of people — who are not already covered by Ehsaas Kafalat programme — had already sent Short Messaging Service (SMS) to designated numbers. The data of the people was being checked with NADRA, the premier said, adding that the government had shortlisted only those people who belonged to the "weakest sector" of the society.
"We are using all our government's resources to fight against corona," he said.
Furthermore, for people who have lost jobs or are earning less due to the lockdown, the government has allocated Rs200 billion to provide relief, the prime minister's aide Hafeez Sheikh told the media. He added that for people who could not afford to pay bills, the connections for gas, water or power will not be disconnected for the next three months.
The prime minister also warned people against taking the virus lightly.
"I have come across posts on social media where people claim that Pakistanis have some sort of immunity against the coronavirus and that is why we have few deaths. I want to say that this is very dangerous. No one can say how fast this virus will spread.
"Even this mindset is dangerous. [The virus] definitely poses a threat to us and we need to take all precautions."
He pointed out that bans on weddings and other gatherings were still in place.
Committee for protection of media workers formed
Also on Friday, Prime Minister Imran formed a five-member committee comprising ministers and special assistants that will address the problems of media workers during the coronavirus crisis.
The move came after the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) had written to the premier seeking government support to save the media industry from a possible crisis and protect media workers.
The premier has tasked the committee with reviewing PBA's recommendations and solving media workers' issues, a statement issued by his office said.
"Every possible effort will be made to protect media workers and lessen the industry's hardships," he said, lauding the media's role in helping the government control the spread of Covid-19.
Additional reporting by Sanaullah Khan in Islamabad.