By Sankar Ray
Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan Niazi announced reimbursement Rs 12,000 to each laid-off worker due to Covid 19-led lockdown under the Ehsaas Kafaalat social protection and welfare program (Ehsaas Cash Emergency Programme), launched on 1 April last. It became operational right away. He tweeted ‘Yesterday I met recipients of #EhsaasEmergencyCash Category IV for labourers laid off work, funded by Prime Minister’s COVID Relief Fund. For every rupee donated, govt will give 4 more. Ehsaas data & transparency rules apply fully.’
The PM gave hint about direct cash transfer to the job-loss affectees whom he met and interacted with at the launch of Ehsaas Kafaalat. The first batch of the people, who lost their jobs, were given Rs 12,000 each, according to official sources. More than Rs104 billion was already reimbursed, benefitting more 8.6 million people across the country.
The announcement coincided with the Asian Development Bank’s approval of $300 million emergency assistance loan to strengthen Pakistan’s public health response to the novel coronavirus disease pandemic and help meet the basic needs of vulnerable and poor segments of society. It is aimed at supporting the purchase of medical supplies and personal protective equipment for hospitals and their frontline health workers; upgrading of medical facilities; training of health workers; the purchase of emergency vehicles to strengthen rescue capacity in remote border areas
The ADB vice-president Shixin Chen, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant detrimental impact on the health and economic prospects of the people of Pakistan. Financing through this project will fast-track ADB’s assistance to strengthen Pakistan’s public health capabilities, provide immediate support to vulnerable women and their families, and facilitate knowledge sharing with Pakistan’s neighbours and other countries in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation region.” Moreover, the ADB’s project is protect the people belonging to economically challenged strata of Pakistani society, especially the women of poor households
But undeniably, the Test-cricket captain-turned Prime Minister’s step is judicious from several angles. One, it will rid millions of job-loss affectees of the dark shadow of penury, hunger and economic pain. Two, it will help them buy essential commodities and articles that are wage goods which are non-inflationary, Three, it will generate cash flow into the national exchequer as indirect taxes. In fine, the Rs 12,000 cash transfer will help reinvigorate the economy, severely afflicted by Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Islamabad is committed to allocate 3.5 per cent of GDP to combat the invasion of novel Coronavirus.
ADB’s Project Administration Unit Head and co-team leader of the project Zheng Wu too thinks that direct cash transfer will help the distress-stricken thousands “meet the basic food needs and necessary living expenses of poor and vulnerable women and families, which are the bedrock of Pakistani society. Unconditional cash transfers help improve the nutritional intake of poor households and boost women’s economic empowerment” Islamabad will have an opportunity to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and other health emergencies effectively.
Sania Nishtar, the Pak PM’s special assistant on poverty alleviation explained the process for identification of beneficiaries and payments: “The existing principles and processes for the Ehsaas Emergency Cash disbursement will be fully implemented. Rule-based controls will be fully adhered to. Data analytics have been adopted for the selection of beneficiaries.”
However, the federal government in Islamabad is on pins and needles to negotiate with the aggressive posture of Covid-19 infection, especially after the lifting of lockdown, a decision fraught with risks affecting social and public health arena. To date, Pakistan has 45,776 persons, detected positive Covid-19 infections with death toll of 986. Brookings Institution warned Islamabad in the end-March that being the world’s fifth most populous country the number of positive cases, having climbed to 1,190 and nine deaths were a matter of concern While it was true that in a densely populated country of more than 210 million, with megacities Lahore and Karachi each teeming with more than 10 million people, the government took important steps early to stop the spread of the disease.
The Government, however, gravely mishandled the return of coronavirus-infected pilgrims from Iran, and its prime minister has waffled on messaging and implementing a full, federally mandated lockdown. While many Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, have cancelled communal prayers, Pakistan’s mosques remain open. The country’s health system — with dated and limited public health facilities, and costly private hospitals inaccessible to all but the rich — is woefully unprepared to deal with COVID-19 and its influx of critically ill patients. (IPA Service)