• Warns of further rise in petrol price, another gas crisis in winter
• Promises to reduce food prices if opposition leaders bring back looted money
• 130m people to get 30pc discount on ghee, flour and pulses for six months

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday announced a Rs120 billion relief package providing subsidy on essential food items but warned people of another increase in petroleum prices in the near future.

In an address to the nation, the prime minister promised to reduce prices of food items by 50 per cent if the opposition leaders’ families brought back even half of the money to the country they had looted over the last three decades.

He gave a detailed comparison of prices of oil and essential items in the world with those in Pakistan and feared another gas crisis during the current winter.

The prime minister said he realised there was a price hike in the country but held the opposition [for its faulty policies in the past] and inflation in the international market responsible for the miseries of the people in Pakistan.

Announcing what he called the country’s biggest-ever subsidy package, Mr Khan said: “Rs120 billion package, jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments, will provide 30 per cent discount on ghee, flour and pulses to 130 million people for the next six months.”

Expressing gratitude to Ehsaas Programme for completing a fresh national database that helps in assessing the financial status of people, the prime minister said the subsidy package was apart from the ongoing different programmes under the Ehsaas initiative worth Rs260bn.

He recalled that the government had already announced the Rs1,400bn Kamyab Pakistan Programme aimed at providing interest-free business loans to four million families. “The package consists of interest-free loans for house construction, Rs0.5m each for farmers and businesses, besides skill training to one member of the entitled family,” he said, adding that under the Kamyab Jawan Programme, the government had so far given Rs30bn loan to 22,000 businesses and would also give six million scholarships and stipends to the students.

Prime Minister Khan said giving 100 per cent health coverage to the masses was his dream and it had come true in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Health Insurance Card is also being extended to Punjab, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and the federal capital by March next year,” he said, urging the Sindh government to replicate in the province.

Petrol bomb

The prime minister said the price of petrol in Pakistan was still less than that in India and Bangladesh. “But now we have to increase oil prices to control the increasing deficit. We are already under ample burden of debts and paying interest on it,” he added.

“Among all oil-importing countries, Pakistan is the cheapest one in terms of oil prices. Oil prices have increased 100pc internationally, but 33pc in Pakistan,” he added. Similarly, he said, the price of gas had not been increased in Pakistan, while it was going high all over the world. “Gas prices have gone up by 116pc in the US and 300pc in Europe,” he added.

The prime minister said oil prices surged to Rs250 per litre in India and Rs200 in Bangladesh, but it was Rs138 in Pakistan. He said the government avoided shifting the burden to the masses which otherwise could bring in additional Rs450bn revenue to the government.

PM Khan said the government had inherited a Pakistan with the biggest-ever fiscal deficit, foreign debt burden, heaviest mark-up, reserves touching the lowest mark and the kitty with no money to pay back debts. He thanked Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China for supporting Pakistan in difficult times to save it from default.

“I can cut down prices by 50 per cent if the opposition leaders return even their 50 per cent money stashed abroad,” he added.

He said that overall prices had gone up 50pc in the world, but only 9pc in Pakistan.

Quoting the Bloomberg Commodity Price Index, the prime minister said commodities’ prices grew by 50pc in a year against just 9pc in Pakistan.

The prime minister said flour rate was Rs83 per kg in India, while Pakistan had half of the world’s average price. Moreover, Moong pulse was being sold at Rs338 per kg in India against Rs162 in Pakistan.

Despite that, he said, the government had decided to launch the subsidy programme in order to avert the burden of inflation on the people.

The prime minister appealed the industrialists and businessmen to take special care of the labour class and give them a pay raise considering inflation.

Under the relief package, a subsidy of Rs1,000 a month would be given to each of the 20 million families with a poverty score of less than 39 and an income of Rs31,500 per month. Ehsass has developed a digitally enabled mobile point of sale system in collaboration with National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) to serve beneficiaries through a network of Kiryana stores.

Economic positive trend

“Our [economic] indicators are on right course. IT achieved 47 per cent growth last year and this year it will touch 75 per cent. This is good news for the youth,” the prime minister said.

He admitted that “no doubt inflation was an issue but instead of merely criticising, like the opposition, the media should also inform the people about the worldwide inflation”.

The prime minister said it took almost a year to stabilise the economy which unfortunately followed the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic — the biggest-ever crisis the world faced during the last century.

The prime minister felt proud for his team in the NCOC comprising top doctors, cabinet members and Pakistan Army which took bold decisions based on the data and made the country steered through the crisis effectively.

“One the one side it was the fear of overcrowding of hospitals like India while the other fear was that the lockdown would destroy the economy. Pakistan opted for the middle course which also involved risks,” he said.

The prime minister recalled that he was pressured to impose India-like blanket lockdown but he said Pakistan was among few countries which successfully sailed through the situation which was also acknowledged by the World Bank, World Health Organization, World Economic Forum as well as the international media including The Economist magazine.

Giving an overview of the Covid-19 impact on world economy, the prime minister the United States spent $4,000 billion to support its economy while Pakistan could only scrape $8 billion to avert the burden of unemployment and support the industry, construction and agriculture.

Due to the government’s prudent policies, the country witnessed a 13.8 per cent growth in rice production, pulses 8 per cent, sugarcane 22 per cent, wheat 8 per cent and cotton 81 per cent growth and an additional Rs1100 billion went to the farmers which was manifested by the record sale of motorbikes, tractors and urea, he said.

He said the profit of engineering sector increased by 350 per cent, textile sector 160 per cent automobiles 138 per cent, cement 113 per cent and oil and gas 75 per cent, besides, the country’s tax collection also grew by 37 per cent as the government had already surpassed the set target.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2021

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