The outbreak of Coronavirus brings many unquantifiable risks for Pakistan. It has raised many public health and economic challenges for the government, yet offers an opportunity to make progressive decisions amid the chaos.

Keeping the wheels of the economy turning, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan has recently announced a package for the construction industry to increase employment opportunities in the country. Among other incentives, the ambitious package has ensured that the investors’ source of investment invested in building projects will not be probed under section 111 of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. It waives off the withholding tax on all construction-related materials, except cement and iron, and importantly, the package also assures that low-cost housing schemes by ‘Naya Pakistan Housing Development Authority’ will be exempted from sales tax by all provinces.

These economic stimulants have been welcomed by the stakeholders. It would surely play an important role in the revival of the construction industry in Pakistan. It is hoped that high rise buildings would be built in due course to cater to the need of residences, office buildings, or other functions including hotel, retail etc. These measures would support in taming inflation and consequently, the newly hired workers would boost overall employment. It would, in effect, square the economic circle, fixing both inflation and unemployment at the same time.

Had such tax reliefs and amnesty packages were given away two years ago and the sphere was broadened to cover other sectors of the economy like textile, IT, fertilizer, automobile etc, Pakistan’s economy would have been comparably more viable and stronger today to fight the imminent repercussions of COVID-19. Similarly, if local governments were functioning in provinces as per their mandate, the response time in reaching out to communities to offer both healthcare and relief would have been significantly more efficient and methodical. Leveraging local networks in countries as populated as Pakistan plays a pivotal role in reducing disease transmission and resistance to health providers.

Nevertheless, the government can still try and devise a cogent strategy to give the economy a desiring jump-start from stagnation. The Premier’s recent incentives were specifically modelled for the supply side of the construction sector, whereas, it would have little bearing on economic growth if the demand for construction projects continue lag.

Therefore, a special stimulus package should be launched using flexible and lucrative financial arrangements such as an easy access to credit facility for housing finance, zero per cent interest rate for establishing industries and start-ups with an easy instalment plan and most importantly, 3 to 5 years of moratorium on loan repayment. This would encourage not just businessmen and industrialists but also low-income workers to plough their savings into investments, fuelling a boom in consumer spending.

Furthermore, the government should enact and codify the corporate social responsibility policy (CSR-Policy) under the Companies Act 2017. Once the CSR-policy is enforced it should then be leveraged to achieve the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by making it obligatory on companies and multinational enterprises to work voluntarily in achieving social and environmental objectives during the course of their business activities.

In this regard, the government should collaborate with private sector companies especially IT sector, in the delivery of essential public services such as education, health, social security, and transport to initiate impactful and innovative programmes for the masses.

In Kenya, for example, an organisation named Water Energy Hub (WE Hub) has been successfully providing electricity and clean water through solar energy to remote areas and improving the material living standards of poor Kenyans.

Similarly, In South America, EHAS (Enlace Hispano Americano de Salud), the Latin American Health Clinic is providing online guidance to local doctors, working in the poverty-stricken areas, through video conferencing App. If local doctors, working in villages, need assistance from leading professionals they can simply use EHAS App and get through the leading experts at any time.

Likewise, in disaster management situations drones could be made functional in delivering foods and first aid packages to affectees during natural disasters and pandemics. Recently, the government of Malawi in partnership with USAID Global Health Supply Chain, UK Aid, and UNICEF have made drones in use for providing medical supplies including vaccines for malaria and tuberculosis, penicillin, anti-malarial and anti-venom medications, and HIV/AIDS testing kits from healthcare centres to remote villages. On the return trip, the drones are also often carrying tests for tuberculosis and other blood samples.

Some 46 people die of a cardiac arrest in Pakistan every hour. One of the main reasons for this is the relatively long response time of the emergency services, while brain death and fatalities occur within four to six minutes. The medical drones might be used in future to deliver defibrillator to patients following a cardiac arrest. The speedy response might increase the chance of survival. These are the areas which demand the government’s unfettered attention.

Time is running out. The clouds of recession are hovering over Pakistan. Therefore, in these extreme and unprecedented circumstances, the government must take drastic measures to minimise the brunt of an impending financial crisis. Convergence of corporate resources with the knowledge and expertise of civil society organisations are key in achieving the sustainable development goals and mitigating financial sector fragility.

The writer is a lawyer. Twitter: @DurraniJ19

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