Relief for common man


AS people are groaning under the burden of unchecked inflation, Prime Minister Imran Khan has done well by directing his cabinet colleagues to take steps for provision of direct relief to the masses in view of an improved economy. He gave these directions while chairing a meeting of the Federal Cabinet in Islamabad on Tuesday, which was briefed by Minister for Finance Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh on the state of economy, inflation and the measures to check price hike of commodities. Among other things, the cabinet also approved procurement of Covid-19 vaccine and establishment of an inspection committee to improve the quality of exports by the fisheries sector.
There are surely some positive signs on the economic front as indicated by an increase in exports, effective check on current account deficit, increased foreign exchange reserves and a boost in remittances by Overseas Pakistanis. It was because of all this that different segments of the society are pinning hopes on oft-repeated commitment of the government leaders to ensure trickledown effect of improvement in economy. However, so far the benefits are nowhere visible and instead some of the measures that the authorities concerned took to address the issue of skyrocketing inflation are losing their worth due to apparent inability of the government to check market manipulation by some mafias and unscrupulous elements. The Government allowed import of sugar when its prices soared to Rs. 110/- per kilogram and prices did come down to about Rs 80/- a kilo when imported sugar reached the market but the relief, which was not full, proved to be a transitory phenomenon as the commodity is once again being sold at Rs. 90 to 100/- per kilo. Despite a comprehensive inquiry that brought to fore the tactics being used by millers to jack up prices unjustifiably, the ex-mill price has again been fixed at Rs. 84 a kilo. The Government also allowed import of wheat in view of record increase in its prices in the domestic market but the strategy resulted in only temporary and negligible relief to the people and the prices are once again on the rise. Apart from sugar and wheat, which are widely used in the country, prices of chicken and eggs have also shot up unrealistically and the authorities have done nothing except declaring their intention to address the situation. It was also pledged that the electricity tariff would come down after the much-trumpeted revision of accords with the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) but practically the prices of electricity are on the rise and there are reports that the tariff would go up significantly in view of commitments made with the IMF for restoration of the stalled programme. Increase in prices of gas and electricity and frequent upward revision of prices of POL products are reflected in the cost of production and hence increase in prices of all goods and services. The Government is also not responsive to the demands of its employees and pensioners for a respectable increase in pay and pensions as price-hike has forced them to compromise on their standard of living. Under these circumstances, one fails to understand what the relief would look like when rates of different taxes are also on the higher side. People get relief due to accelerated economic activities but not to speak of subdued development spending even budget for on-going highly beneficial projects has also been slashed. People are also expecting relief in the shape of early immunization against Covid-19 but the pace of progress for procurement of the vaccines is somewhat wanting. While many countries are now in the advanced stages of immunization, we are still in the approval stage and that is why the Sindh Government has lamented the delay in procurement. There is no doubt that the government has allocated a budget for import of vaccines and it has to be very cautious on the issue as quality and efficacy of the vaccines is directly linked to the health of the citizens. However, it is also understood that full socio-economic activity is dependent upon vaccination of the entire population and therefore, the relevant officials will have to work hard to analyze the situation in the right perspective and make timely decisions. We also need to set our own priorities, devise necessary protocols and impart training to health workers to ensure optimum benefits of the vaccination. Fishery plays an important role in the national economy but our seafood exports are a fraction of the country’s potential and quality has been the major hurdle in the way of boosting its export. The Cabinet has rightly taken notice of the situation and hopefully the committee assigned with the task would not only propose solid measures but also ensure their prompt implementation.

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