The targeted subsidy program will grant 30 percent discount on ghee, wheat flour and pulses for 20 million lowest-income families
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday announced a relief package worth Rs. 120 billion in a bid to mitigate the impact of the current bout of rampant inflation, especially of essential commodities.
Describing the package as “the biggest welfare program in Pakistan’s history,” the premier claimed it would help the country transform into a welfare state. Under the announced package, 20 million eligible families would receive a 30 percent discount on their purchase of ghee, wheat flour and pulses. This measure would continue for six months, said Khan, adding that it would jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments. He said that, if conditions allowed it, the package would be extended beyond its current six-month mandate.
While the prime minister did not announce any details of how the program would be implemented, PTI lawmaker Sadaqat Ali Khan told media that it would be operated through Ehsaas cards, which would need to be presented to stores upon purchase. He said that the cards would be issued to the eligible families over the next few months, emphasizing that the discount could only be applied to the purchase of the three listed commodities.
During his address, the prime minister lauded his government’s Ehsaas team, saying they had spent the past three years compiling data on the financial status of families nationwide. “Until we had this data, giving subsidies was not an easy task, it was based on estimations. But since we have this data today, I am now in the position to present this relief package,” he said.
Summarizing the economic situation inherited by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government, Khan thanked Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and China for helping Pakistan avoid default. “We had to approach the IMF, we were stabilizing the country for a year and then corona came,” he said. Praising the National Command and Operation Center for ensuring the protection of lives and livelihoods, he claimed Pakistan had been internationally acknowledged for dealing with the pandemic “in the best manner.” Detailing the prevailing economic indicators, he claimed the overall trajectory was “positive,” and emphasized the success of the government’s construction and agriculture incentives.
The prime minister acknowledged that inflation was a major issue for Pakistan, adding that the media and the opposition had a right to criticize the government. However, he added, the media should be “balanced and think whether inflation is rising because of our government or due to rise in prices in the international market.”
Quoting global inflation rates, he said the price of natural gas had increased by 116 percent in the U.S. and by 300 percent in Europe, while there had been no similar increase in the price of gas being supplied to homes in Pakistan. “There has only been an increase in the price of gas that is being procured from outside Pakistan,” he said, hinting that the country would likely face gas shortages in the winter.
During his address, the prime minister also warned of another increase to the price of petrol, noting international prices had increased by 100 percent in the last 3-4 months while they had been hiked by 33 percent in Pakistan. “If we don’t increase the price of petrol, our deficit will increase and we will be further burdened by debt,” he added.
Similarly, said Khan, the price of wheat in Pakistan was half of that in India and Bangladesh.
The prime minister spent the bulk of his 25-minute address discussing the PTI government’s Ehsaas program, saying the Rs. 260 billion measure was already functioning with an aim to benefit 12 million families. “We are also launching the Kamyab Pakistan [program] with a funding of Rs. 1,400 billion to give interest-free loans to 4 million families,” he said, referring to a program that officially launched last month.
He reiterated that the government was providing skills education to 200,000 people, as well as 6 million scholarships and school stipends. Additionally, he said, the entire population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been given health cards, while the same program was likely to be launched in Punjab in December.
During his nationally televised address, the prime minister appealed to industrialists who had profited in recent months to increase the salaries of their employees and share their profits with laborers.
“I request the two big families to bring [to Pakistan] half of the money they looted and took outside,” he said to the opposition. “Even if they bring half, I promise you and the nation that I will slash the prices of all food items by half,” he said, in a reference to the families of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. In his inaugural address as prime minister, Khan had vowed to bring back this “looted wealth”; three years later he is “requesting” that it be returned.