Won’t discriminate in provision of relief funds, PM Imran assures

PM says in order for lockdown to be successful, govt will have to provide food at people’s doorsteps

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LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday assured the nation that the distribution of relief funds in wake of the coronavirus crisis will be done “purely on merit” without any “political interference”.

“It will not matter who belongs to which party,” the premier said while addressing a fund-raising event at Punjab Governor’s House here.

Imran said the crisis will be a true test of how lawmakers serve their constituencies in this difficult time. “The field of politics has been stained with this belief that politicians say they will serve the people’s interests but only serve their own,” he added.

The prime minister said the government will resort to countrywide lockdown if the coronavirus infection spiked exponentially, but for a curfew to be successful, it will need to provide food to people at their doorsteps.

He added that the Tiger Force will be responsible for the delivery of food and that it needed to be fully operational when the tough time comes. He assured that all the donations and contributions to support the vulnerable segments of the society would be transparent.

The prime minister said that Allah Almighty had always tested nations with trials and tribulations and those emerge stronger which faced such testing times with patience. “A good man faces hard times and often emerges from the trials without seeking shortcuts. It is a testing time for the nation to bear it with patience. It is a test of the nation, though it is indeed a difficult time as no one had the experience of how to deal with coronavirus challenge,” he added.

Speaking about measures to sustain the economy, the PM said his government’s entire efforts were geared towards protecting the most vulnerable sector— the daily wage workers.

“The small shop owner, the rickshaw driver […] those in construction, the painter, the welder, they are all sitting at home right now.” He said there is a fine balance to strike between stemming the spread of the virus and taking care of the poor.

“One the one hand we closed all places were people could gather, but on the other, we have to run our affairs in a manner that we do not let these vulnerable segments feel the financial crunch that comes from such measures,” he added.

“We have opened the construction industry,” said the prime minister which will provide “the most jobs” in cities. He said in villages the agriculture sector had been allowed to function as usual as it is one upon which rural residents depend on for income.

Urging patience on the part of all Pakistanis, the premier said the greatest quality one can possess is to exercise patience during tough times. “Those who are patient go far in life. Those who throw their hands in the air and give up, they rank among the many who fail.”

He said one has to admit these are difficult times. “It is difficult because no one has the experience to deal with such a crisis.”

The PM urged people to exercise caution, adding despite many challenges faced by it, Pakistan will emerge as a stronger nation and become the welfare state. “It was a big vision which we have forgotten,” said the premier, adding that that was why the world didn’t respect Pakistan anymore.

Citing the example of giant economies that have far greater resources and institutions, with health systems having more funding than Pakistan’s entire budget.

“The US has prepared a $2,000bn relief package whereas we can barely manage $8bn.” He said that despite their resources, there is “a breakdown of their systems”. “If this is what can happen to them, our situation was dire to begin with.”

He said that it makes him happy to see so many foundations and charitable organisations have opened, recalling how when he started the Shaukat Khanum, only Edhi’s name would be prominent in doing large scale charity work.

PM Imran said Pakistan ranks as the fifth or sixth most charitable nation. He said people only donate when they have trust it will be utilised as intended.

He said with the assistance of Dr Sania, who is in charge of the Ehsaas Programme, a large database had been made and will constantly be updated with a list of families who are most deserving.

The prime minister said a Facebook page will be launched next week which will identify which areas are the most in need of donations.

He said all charities wishing to donate will all be registered under one platform and will be informed of which areas need funds, so there is no duplication, like in the times when earthquakes and floods struck Pakistan.

“We must ensure the funds are utilised properly and for that we must be organised.”

‘LOCKDOWN AND STARVATION’

In a series of tweetsImran said faced with the “stark” choice of having to balance between a lockdown necessary to “slow down/prevent” the spread of coronavirus & ensuring “people don’t die of hunger” and the economy does not collapse, the government was “walking on a tight rope”.

The PM said that the government has a number of measures to ensure that “people don’t die of hunger” and the economy doesn’ collapse in the fight against the pandemic.

He further said that for the continuity of the economic activities, they had decided to open up the construction sector, besides keeping the agriculture sector open.

“We have locked down educational institutions, malls, marriage halls, restaurants & other places where the public congregates. But, to stop the devastation of the lockdown we have kept our agri[culture] sector open & now we are opening up our construction sector”, he added.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Imran announced a relief package for the construction sector that provides tax exemptions to the sector, in a bid to strike a balance between the “lockdown and regulation of economic activity”.

According to the announcement, the government will not ask construction entities about their source of income for this year as well as approval of a fixed tax regime for the sector.

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