PM Imran asks world for debt relief in war on Covid-19

Updated Apr 13 2020

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Prime minister says Pakistan does not have money to spend on already overstretched health services. — DawnNewsTV/File
Prime minister says Pakistan does not have money to spend on already overstretched health services. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has again appealed to the leaders of rich countries, the UN secretary general and heads of financial institutions to give debt relief to developing countries like Pakistan so that they could combat the deadly Covid-19 in a better way.

In a video message to the international community broadcast by TV channels on Sunday, the prime minister highlighted the difficulties being faced by the developing countries, particularly those burdened by heavy debt, in handling the situation and said the biggest challenge for nations in the developing world was to save their peoples from dying of the pandemic and hunger due to extended lockdowns triggered by the disease.

Mentioning the huge relief packages announced by the US, German and Japanese governments in their countries to cope with the situation, the prime minister said that the maximum “we could afford was $8 billion”.

PM says Pakistan does not have money to spend on already overstretched health services

“This is the issue with most countries of the developing world suffering from a very high debt to the GDP ratio, so the problem in these highly indebted countries is that they now face lack of fiscal space,” Mr Khan said, adding: “We do not have the money to spend on already overstretched health services, and secondly, to stop people from dying of hunger.”

“Therefore, I appeal to world leaders, to UN secretary general (Antonio Guterres) and to heads of the financial institutions, to launch an initiative, an initiative that will give debt relief to developing countries to combat the coronavirus,” he said.

Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities, at the end of December last year, stood at about Rs41 trillion, which is almost 94 per cent of the country’s GDP.

In his opening remarks, PM Khan compared the difference in approaches of the developed and developing countries in the fight against the pandemic.

“As the global response to the crisis unfolds, we see two different responses,” he said, adding that the developed countries had adopted a policy to first focus on containing the virus through lockdowns and then dealing with the economic impact.

“In the developing world, apart from containing the virus and dealing with the economic crisis, our biggest worry now is to save people from dying of hunger. The dilemma on the one side is to save people from Covid-19 and on the other to save them from dying of hunger due to prolonged lockdowns,” the prime minister said.

Besides this, Mr Khan pointed out, there was a huge difference in the resources available to developing countries and the developed world, stating that the US had already come up with a relief package of $2.2tr for its citizens, Germany with a relief package of 1tr euros and Japan with $1tr.

“To give an example of Pakistan with a population of over 220 million people, so far the maximum stimulus we could afford is $8bn, and this is the issue with most of the developing countries,” he said.

The prime minister has already set up a Coronavirus Relief Fund account and appealed to the people to make generous donations in it to help the government fight the pandemic and to provide ration and relief to people living under the biting lockdown for almost a month.

Last month, in an interview to a foreign news agency, the prime minister had expressed the fear that Covid-19 would devastate economies of developing countries.

He had urged the world’s richer countries to write off the debt of poorer countries and called for lifting of sanctions against Iran.

“My worry is poverty and hunger,” Mr Khan had remarked, stating that “the world community has to think of some sort of a debt write-off for countries like us, which are very vulnerable as at least that will help us cope with pandemic.

“It’s not just Pakistan. I imagine the same situation in India, in the subcontinent or in African countries,” he had said.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2020