ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday ordered a reduction in the prices of food items as his government has not only been drawing scathing criticism from the opposition for the rising inflation, poverty and unemployment rates, but some within its own ranks have also been ringing the alarm bells.
“We came to power for the welfare of the poor. We have no right to continue staying in power if we don’t care about them,” the premier said while presiding over a meeting to review the prices of basic commodities, particularly food items.
“We will do whatever it takes to provide relief to the poor,” he added, directing his economic team to take every step possible to bring down the prices of flour, cooking oil, pulses, sugar and rice among other essential edibles.
The premier said his government would ensure the provision of basic food items to the common man. “The government will provide ration to those who cannot afford to buy [essential edibles]. They will be assisted through the Ehsaas programme,” he vowed.
The premier blamed his predecessors and hoarders for the surge in the prices of essential commodities across the country.
Zulqarnain Khan, the chairman of the Utility Stores Corporation (USC), told the prime minister that sales at Utility Stores had increased by 800%. PM Imran lauded the performance of the USC, particularly during the recent flour crisis.
The meeting was attended by Adviser to the PM on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Revenue Affairs Minister Hammad Azhar, senior PTI leader Jahangir Tareen, Punjab CM’s former spokesman Shahbaz Gill, Special Assistant to the PM on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Dr Sania Nishtar and Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi among others.
Inflation skyrocketed to 14.6% in January this year from 12.6% in the previous month, reaching the highest level in nine years, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. It has been attributed to an increase in food and energy costs.
Both the main opposition parties, the PPP and the PML-N, have criticised the government for the price hike.
Speaking in Karachi a few days ago, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari announced that his party would launch a movement next month against the government’s “flawed” economic policies.
He blamed the International Monetary Fund’s $6 billion bailout package for the dilemma faced by the people and demanded that the government should revisit the terms of the loan with the global lender.
On Friday, the PML-N also devised a strategy against the PTI-led government’s economic policies, which it claims are responsible for the increasing prices of essential commodities.
The party decided to launch an awareness campaign both in and outside parliament on the government’s “failure” to curb the surge in prices. Seminars will be organised across the country to inform the business community about the “flaws” in the government’s economic policies.
To make matters worse for the ruling PTI, its coalition partners have also started piling up pressure on the government calling for reining in inflation.
On Friday, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid, the head of the Awami Muslim League, admitted that the people were displeased with the government because of the rising inflation. “The government faces only one threat and that is inflation,” he warned.
Speaking to reporters in Sialkot on Wednesday, Federal Housing Minister Tariq Bashir Cheema, a leader of the PML-Q, said his party’s basic agreement with the government was to provide relief to the people but that could not be achieved.
“Inflation is spiralling out, there has been no change in unemployment rate and the law and order situation, and gas and electricity tariffs are being jacked up every now and then,” he added.
The minister said the PML-Q, being a coalition partner, was requesting the government to bring the situation under control. “We are riding in the same boat. Our gains and losses are mutual. We are asking you [the government] to bring these matters under control and I don’t think this is an unjust demand.”
Cheema said that if the government’s boat sank, it would be because of its own wrong decisions. “We are not part of those wrong decisions. If they [PTI] are punished for making them, then why should we go down with them?”