ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday unveiled a financial relief package worth around Rs1.2 trillion to ward off the negative impact of coronavirus on the country.
The package included reducing prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene by Rs15 per litre, providing Rs3,000 monthly stipend for daily wagers, and improving liquidity crunch for exporters and industrialists.
While talking to a select group of TV anchors here, the PM announced tax breaks on import of pulses, waived off duty on import of palm oil and reduced petroleum levy on petrol, oils and lubricants (POL) products in order to provide relief to consumers.
“We have provided relief package to the tune of Rs1.2 trillion as it did not incorporate tax relief provided through abolishing/reducing taxes on pulses and palm oil,” Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar told The News when asked about the exact financial impact of relief package announced by premier here. He said the reduction in Petroleum Levy on POL products would cost the government Rs75 billion over the next three months. He also claimed that the electricity bill through three-instalment payment and gas bill in instalments would have cost of Rs70 billion and Rs30 billion for power and gas companies as their cash receipts would face disruptions.
The PM made the first announcement for industries and exporters to the tune of Rs200 billion as he announced that the FBR was instructed to release Rs100 billion refunds on immediate basis. It will help improving liquidity crunch being faced by the exporters, he added.
He said the principle and mark-up of loans would be deferred with the help of Rs100 billion. He said that the Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) or small and medium-sized businesses sector loan would also be provided concessional loans and their mark-up payment would also be deferred.
He said that the government allocated Rs150 billion for providing Rs3,000 monthly help to daily wagers. And the Centre would also involve provinces to expand coverage of the programme to maximum beneficiaries. He said that the government increased additional allocation of Rs50 billion for Utility Stores Corporation (USC) so that provision of essential food items at affordable prices could be ensured. The premier also announced allocation of Rs280 billion for procurement of 8 million tons of wheat as it will help for providing cash to farmers.
The PM also announced slashing prices of petroleum products by Rs15 per litre including diesel, petrol and kerosene with immediate effect. The government estimated that it was going to face hit of Rs75 billion on its petroleum levy over the next three months.
Answering a query, Advisor to PM on Petroleum replied that the POL prices would be further reduced if the existing trend of reduced prices persisted in international market.
The premier also announced that the electricity bill up to 300 units that consists of 75 per cent consumers will be able to pay their bills through instalments over next three months. The gas bill will also be allowed through three instalments over next three months.
The PM announced allocation of Rs50 billion for procurement of medical equipments. He also announced tax reduction/abolishing on food items such as on import of pulses, palm oil and others. He announced Rs100 billion for emergency relief as the government earmarked this amount in order to spend on sectors where there is increasing requirement in the wake of evolving situation because of outbreak of corona.
The PM also allocated Rs25 billion for National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). He also announced that he would unveil special relief package for construction sector in the next few days as it would help to kick-start different industries and would provide jobs at this difficult times.
The journalists present on the occasion raised critical questions over the non-elected representatives of economic team, laid back monetary policy, attracting hot money and prescription of wrong economic policies, the PM replied that he would be responsible for all policies of his government.
Advisor to PM on Finance and Revenues Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, while replying to different questions, said that the monetary policy was the domain of the State Bank of Pakistan and the Monetary Policy Committee was holding its meeting right now and their decision would be made public. When journalists continued critical questions on monetary policy that was criticised by industrialists, independent economists and all others and hot money of $3 billion also started flying out, the advisor replied that he had inherited the economy when it was close to default and stated that he had to pay back Rs5,000 billion mark-up of loan at a time when the country was collecting tax revenues less than Rs4,000 billion. The external debt stood at $95 billion and CAD gap stood at $20 billion so they managed economy in such situation. However, the journalists seemed that they were not satisfied with the answers. It resulted in eruption of debate among the advisor and journalists and the PM had to intervene by saying please listen to our viewpoint as well.
Earlier, Advisor to PM on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood told The News on Tuesday that the government would improve liquidity crunch of industrialists and exporters but they would have to give assurances that they would not retrench their workforce. “We are here to provide all kind of relief provided you do not retrench your workforce” he said in an exclusive talk with The News on phone on Tuesday afternoon.
He said that the exporters would be provided refunds at the earliest as they were working with the FBR to release stuck up refunds. The stuck-up refunds, he said, would be released within few days.
He said that the liquidity problems would be properly taken care of provided the industrialists do not opt policy of retrenchment of their workers. “It is difficult time that requires finding out extra ordinary solution” he said and added that the government would have to move cautiously on the economic front.
To another question regarding hedging of oil prices, he said that in the aftermath of outbreak of coronavirus the international market and prices are so fluid that no one knows how things will proceed further in days to come. “Yes the hedging of POL prices is under consideration but the government will move for taking any decision in cautious manner,” he concluded.
APP adds: Other packages, he said, included additional amount of Rs50 billion for the Utility Stores, and Rs280 billion for wheat procurement.
An amount of Rs100 billion was allocated separately for the emergency situation, he added.
A sum of Rs50 billion was also allocated for the medical staff.
The National Disaster Management Authority would get Rs25 billion for purchase and procuring of kits, he announced.
The PM said they were also expanding the network of Panagah (shelter homes) where the precautionary measures had been strictly practised. Besides, he added, it was decided to either completely cut taxes or reduce them on different edible items.
Reiterating that the country could not afford a complete lockdown with the imposition of curfew, the prime minister said the situation in the country so far did not warrant resorting to that last step. He the government would review the situation after a couple of weeks.
The provincial governments after the 18th Constitutional Amendment could take their decisions while the role of the federal government was only that of an advisory, he replied to a query.
The federal government, he said, could only give guidelines but could not direct the provinces against their decisions. The provincial governments could react to a situation, but should also give consideration to the evolving situation.
Comparing the situation in Spain, Italy, France and other European countries, the prime minister said with about 900 cases in Pakistan, the government team had been taking cognizance of the evolving situation regularly.
The youth and overseas Pakistanis would be tapped in such like scenario, added the PM. To a question about holding of religious congregations in the country despite a ban, Imran Khan said the government had mobilised the ulema, who were guiding the people to avoid mass gatherings and follow the government and health ministry’s precautionary measures.
A volunteers force would also be formed to assist and guide the people in that regard. He reiterated: “We as a nation will counter the pandemic with unity, rest assure the government is fully concentrating on the economy and food security, and trying its level best to face the endemic.”
It was the government job to create easiness for its people, he added. He said when the pandemic spread there were only 1500 ventilators in the public sector but now their number had increased to 2,200.
To another question, the prime minister said he fully believed in freedom of the press, but accuracy and objectivity should be the hallmarks of journalists. The role of the media was to counter panic in the society as it was more dangerous than the coronavirus.
He assured the anchorpersons that the nation had the resilience to counter such kind of crisis, citing the examples of 2005 earthquake and 2010 flood. The government would provide all details to the media about the situation and take them into confidence.
The prime minister said efforts were being made to stock the hospitals with basic medical equipment. He urged the people to become disciplined and avoid social gatherings so that there would be no need for them to go to hospitals.