ISLAMABAD: Prime Minis­ter Imran Khan has said the government will approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide a second relief package to the needy and deserving people of society during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s time for the second (Ehsaas) package and the head of IMF realises the unique situation. I will personally talk to her,” Mr Khan said at the launch of United Nations Develop­ment Programme’s Pakistan National Human Develop­ment Report on Inequality.

“We are going to speak to IMF because we see disruptions ahead just when our economy is recovering and all the indicators are positive. Unfortunately, we will have to review the whole situation and our new Ehsaas programme because the service industry has been badly hit everywhere in the world and in Pakistan our service industry has been hit really bad,” he said.

The event was also attended by Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar, with virtual attendance by Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Kanni Wignaraja.

Speaking on inequality, PM Khan said laundering of money from poor states to tax heavens and rich countries was widening the gap between rich and poor states even during Covid-19 pandemic. “There is something wrong in the world order that poor are becoming poorer and rich people are richer,” he remarked.

“The report of the UN had revealed that every year $1 trillion go into the tax havens and richer countries. And that $7 trillion of this poor country’s money is laundered and parked in safe tax havens, causing huge inequality and poverty,” he added.

Presented by lead author Dr Hafiz Pasha, the report explores many dimensions of inequality in Pakistan, both at national and provincial levels, with focus on inequality between and within the provinces. In addition, inequality has been measured from the perspective of people focusing on children, labour, youth and women. The report explores not just economic measures such as income and wealth but also inequalities in human development.

About funds allocated for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, PM Khan said Pakistan having a population of 220 million distributed $8 billion among people during the pandemic where the US with a population of 330 million provided around $4 trillion to Covid-hit population. “So I think, this is time for a second package and we will obviously talk to IMF,” the prime minister said.

He believed the IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva, too, realized gravity of the situation, as certain conditions could not be imposed on the people amid the pandemic. In a recent statement, the IMF head had said: “The global economy is on firmer footing as millions of people benefit from vaccines. But while the recovery is under way, too many countries are falling behind and economic inequality is worsening. Strong policy action is needed to give everyone a fair shot—a shot in the arm to end the pandemic everywhere, and a shot at a better future for vulnerable people and countries.”

Mr Khan said the UNDP recognised reduction in poverty and human development growth in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said the UNDP report would greatly help the government to fine-tune its policies to protect the people below the poverty line.

Regarding inequality in the region, UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Kanni Wignaraja said: “The challenge of inequality is endemic, both regionally and globally. While the Asia-Pacific region has witnessed the steepest rise in human development, globally, it continues to grapple with widespread multidimensional poverty, and is now vulnerable to a new set of inequalities emerging around higher education and climate resilience. And the one we have been unable to close – the shocking gender gaps in our region.”

“The report highlights that interregional inequality in Pakistan has increased. It indicates that the highest level of Human Development in Pakistan is in Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has shown the fastest rate of growth in human development,” said Dr Pasha.

He also highlighted that the level of child development was low in Pakistan, while within the country it was relatively higher in Punjab. He also mentioned the privileges of the elite in Pakistan added up to Rs2,660bn, equivalent to 8pc of the GDP.

About the release of the report, UNDP Pakistan Resident Representative Knut Ostby said: “This NHDR comes at an especially important time for the country. With the Covid-19 pandemic pushing millions of people into poverty, the issue of inequality has become far more urgent for the success of the country, its institutions, and its people. We hope that the recommendations contained in the report can spawn policy discussions and dialogue, and lead to actionable change at the policy level.”

Punjab projects

While presiding over a meeting on development projects earlier, the PM directed the authorities concerned to set deadlines for work and ensure their monitoring for effective execution of Gujranwala Development Plan. He said the government would promote small and medium enterprises as he was aware of the potential of Gujranwala.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Adviser to CM Salman Shah, Punjab Chief Secretary Jawwad Rafiq attended the meeting via video link.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed attended the meeting on Rawalpindi’s Leh Expressway Project.

Judge’s assassination

Meanwhile, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief Dr Sanaullah Abbasi in a meeting with the prime minister apprised him of the latest development in the judge’s killing case. He said the KP police had arrested two suspects for the recent killing of anti-terrorism court judge Aftab Afridi on the motorway. The PM ordered exemplary punishment to those involved in the incident.

Separately, Mr Khan appointed Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders Malik Fida and Ijaz Chaudhry as party’s chief whip and parliamentary leader in the Senate. Senator Ali Zafar also called on the prime minister and discussed legal and parliamentary issues.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2021

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