IN his maiden address to the nation, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced a Rs 28 billion relief package to offset the impact of the recent increase in the prices of petroleum products on vulnerable segments of the society.
Under the relief package, 14 million poor families, comprising 85 million people, would be given Rs 2000 per family, over and above the monetary assistance being provided under Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).
The Prime Minister also directed the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) to provide a 10 kilogram bag of wheat flour for just Rs 400.
There is consensus among neutral observers that it was an address with a difference as the Prime Minister focused on what his Government intends to do to mitigate woes of the people, bring the shattered economy back on track and did not use his speech to hurl abuses on political opponents as had been the case during the last four years.
No doubt, Mian Shehbaz Sharif criticized policies of the PTI Government but the aim was to apprize the people about the damage done to the economy and the country’s relations with some important capitals due to mishandling.
The tone adopted by the Prime Minister is understandable as he is widely known as a leader who delivers and the one who upholds the banner of reconciliation and amity even in most trying circumstances.
This is a hallmark of his personality and the main factor behind his reputation as a successful administrator.
It is also encouraging that people of Pakistan understand the need for initiating politically unpopular measures to revive the economy at a time when economic experts were warning that the country was a few weeks away from default.
It is because of this that there was not as bad a reaction to the massive increase of Rs 30 in the price of petroleum products as people showed on similar occasions in the past.
There is a growing realization that a country like Pakistan where the tax base was very limited and dependence on foreign assistance was increasing cannot afford to subsidize POL products.
Otherwise too, the subsidy, announced by the PTI Government was to be rolled back from the beginning of July 2022 and the incumbent Government had to eliminate it partially a month earlier to ensure early resumption of the IMF programme.
The PM explained that the coalition government took a difficult decision of increasing the petroleum products’ prices with a heavy heart as prices of oil in the international market were sky-rocketing, but the last government announced a subsidy for which there was no allocation in the budget.
It is hoped that the relief package announced by the Prime Minister would, to some extent, offset the impact of the fresh wave of price-hike for the poor.
Wheat being the staple food of the people, the decision of the PM to provide flour at a subsidized price at the Utility Stores means much for the ordinary citizen.
One must appreciate that the overall thinking of the unity government is people-centric and this impression was also confirmed by Minister for Finance Miftah Ismail, who categorically declared that there would be no further burden on salaried class and pensioners in the coming budget.
This is reassuring as the IMF was putting pressure on the Government to increase rates of income tax, bring down the number of IT slabs and also impose tax on pensions.
In his speech, the Prime Minister stated that his Government has started consultations on the much-talked-about Charter of Economy so that in future nobody could play havoc with the country’s economy.
He also referred to the efforts of the Government to rebuild ties with some important countries, which were dented by the short-sighted and politically motivated strategy of the previous Government.
The recent visits of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and ISI Chief Lt General Nadeem Anjum to the United States were reported to be part of the efforts to reset ties with the world’s only super power.
The Prime Minister also sent a loud and clear message to India that peace would remain an elusive dream in the region until and unless New Delhi withdraws August 5, 2019 unilateral action for starting meaningful talks for solution of Kashmir and all other outstanding issues.
In fact, the Government has necessary vision and will to address challenges facing the country both on internal and external fronts provided all stakeholders help create a salutary environment.