KARACHI: Seeing reopening of schools and educational institutions in June as “not possible”, the Sindh government on Wednesday insisted Islamabad and other stakeholders allow limited business and regular activities even if the decision about easing the lockdown was reached with consensus among all the provinces and the centre.
Claiming that majority of members of the federal government were against opening of business activities, shopping malls and markets, some key Sindh ministers wondered how the provincial Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leadership was demanding resumption of normal business activities.
“I suggest them [PTI leaders] to first contact their leadership before making any demand or statement,” said Education Minister Saeed Ghani while addressing a press conference at the auditorium hall of the Sindh Assembly along with Energy Minister Imtiaz Sheikh.
“We want a consensus and national level decision over the lockdown. But still we suggest extraordinary care while reaching any decision and it would not be business as usual like opening of shopping malls and markets. Even members of the federal government have supported this idea,” he said.
Decision to reopen schools on June 1 still not final
To a query, he said that there was a huge difference between the resources of the federal and provincial governments and because of that the Sindh government was supposed to get Rs835 billion from the centre this year but chances of such support were highly unlikely.
“But I demand that the federation provide maximum health relief to all the provinces,” he said. “We have decided that we will take all the decisions in consultation with all the provinces at the National Coordination Committee as there must be national unity in the country,” he added.
Ghani unsure about schools’ reopening from June 1
To another question about opening of schools and educational institutions in Sindh, closed since Feb 26 with the detection of the first coronavirus case in the province, Mr Ghani was not sure about the scheduled resumption of educational activities from June 1.
“When [Covid-19] cases started emerging we took some key and immediate decisions and closure of schools and educational institutions was one of them,” he said. “We had decided to close schools under summer vacations a little early to start the new session from June 1. We have not reached any decision yet but honestly if you ask me, it doesn’t sound possible to me. But, still I don’t want any speculation to take off from here, so I will request you all to wait till the final decision which would be reached within next couple of weeks.”
Energy Minister Sheikh demanded the federal government waive the bills of domestic consumers using 200 units of electricity and domestic consumers using up to Rs2,000 of gas. The two-month bills of mosques and madressahs should also be waived, he said.
“The chief minister has already announced that K-Electric, Hesco, Sepco and gas companies would not charge customers with bills up to 200 units of electricity and gas for at least Rs2,000. The consumers would be allowed to pay the bills in next 10 months but we are receiving some complaints in this regard. So we demand the federal government … because these two key utility services are in their control and management,” he said.
Mr Ghani, who also holds the portfolio of labour, admitted to have received complaints from workers and daily wage earners about their sacking during the lockdown and that a large number of employees were not given their monthly salaries.
“The provincial labour department has received 61 complaints against employers for non-payment of salaries and 12 complaints regarding dismissal from services. A few among 73 complaints cite that in some factories workers were forced to tender resignation,” he said.
“We have already taken action on majority of the complaints. We also appeal to the people of the province to approach the labour department with their complaints and contact us over phone 021-99243822 and fax number 021-99243355 in case of any grievances,” he added.
He also requested factory owners to ensure payment of salaries to workers instead of firing them.
In this regard, Mr Ghani said, the State Bank of Pakistan had already announced its soft loan policy. However, he called upon the federal government to allow interest-free loans to industrialists so they could pay salaries.
Bilawal meets PPP’s body on coronavirus
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday directed the members of his party’s Covid-19 Relief Committee to extend the scope of relief work to district level.
According to a statement, he was chairing a meeting of the Covid-19 Relief Committee over video link at Bilawal House.
He said that the Covid-19 outbreak was spreading fast and the situation demanded everyone to play a preventive role.
Committee members Saleem Mandviwala, Nayyar Bukhari, Taj Haider and Chaudhry Yasin briefed the PPP chairman about the relief work.
“The PPP chairman further directed the members of the committee to launch an extensive public awareness campaign on Covid-19 at the district levels as the rural populous needs more awareness about the pandemic,” said the statement. “The PPP chairman said that pamphlets should be distributed for the awareness campaign besides the use of social media while necessary safety equipment should also be provided to the people.”
He said that good results had been achieved in the Sasti Roti programme so its scope should be extended to provide relief to the people during Ramazan.”
Mr Mandviwala informed him about provision of test kits, masks, protective equipment to people in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. He also told him that face masks were also being despatched to the young doctors in Lahore.
Mr Haider informed the PPP chief that more test kits and equipment were in pipeline which would be despatched to Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Chaudhry Yasin said that equipment in Kashmir was distributed at divisional level.
Mr Bukhari informed the chairman that free flour to the tandoors was being provided so that the people could get sasti roti.
Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2020