ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres responded positively and endorsed Prime Minister Imran Khan's call for debt relief to the developing countries in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.
He expressed his gratitude toward the UN secretary general for paying heed to the premier’s appeal and extending support towards the cause.
On April 12, PM Imran had appealed to the leaders of rich countries, the UN secretary general and heads of financial institutions to give debt relief to developing countries like Pakistan so that they could combat the deadly Covid-19 in a better way.
In a video message to the international community, he underscored the difficulties being faced by the developing countries, particularly those burdened by heavy debt, in handling the situation.
He noted the biggest challenge for nations in the developing world was to save their people from dying of the pandemic and hunger due to extended lockdowns triggered by the disease.
The premier observed with a population of over 220 million people, the maximum stimulus the country could afford was $8 billion and this was the issue with most of the developing countries.
Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities, at the end of December last year, stood at about Rs41 trillion, which is almost 94% of the country’s GDP.
A meeting of the finance ministers and officials of G-20 countries on Wednesday agreed to suspend repayments of principal and interest for poor and least development countries for almost a year.
Countries with debt service payments to the World Bank and the IMF are eligible to benefit from the relief.
The initiative, which is being backed by Paris Club of creditors, would be effective from May 1.
Pakistan will also be able to benefit from the relief for being on an IMF programme.
Addressing a news conference in Multan on Saturday, FM Qureshi asked the countries to join hands in the battle against the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“The developing countries are fighting on two fronts, one against Covid-19 and second against hunger,” he said.
“The Covid-19 pandemic not only affected the developing countries but also the developed countries including the United States, Italy, German and other,” he added.
“The world should make joint struggle against the pandemic.”
He urged the opposition parties to avoid politics and criticism and assist the government in this crucial time.
The foreign minister said that PM Imran had set a special coronavirus fund in which a large number of people were donating money as they reposed trust in him.
Lauding the efforts of the foreign office staff, FM Qureshi stated they had donated over Rs10 million in PM special fund.
He remarked that Pakistan Foreign Office Women Association (PFOWA) donated 1000 N-95 masks, protective kits, gloves, and shields for the doctors of Multan.
Commenting on the digitalization process in the foreign office, Qureshi said an application had been launched which would help keep contact with 117 missions in various countries round-the-clock.
Deliberating on the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, he maintained the government was transparently disbursing Rs144 billion among 120 million families in the country.
“In Multan, 138,319 people have received the financial assistance of Rs12,000 each so far,” he said and added that the process was moving forward in smooth manner.
The foreign minister declared the Ehsaas programme was being hailed as a “model programme” internationally for the assistance of the poor.
He cautioned the hoarders against stocking food commodities and creating artificial inflation and said anyone found in the malpractice would be punished severely under the new ordinance.
He reiterated that the government was opening new sectors to create economic opportunities and address the unemployment issue.
"The recent reduction in markup would also facilitate the business community and thus create more jobs,” he said.
“The single digit mark would help attract more investment, similarly, the package for construction industry would also provide jobs to labourers," he added.
Responding to a question on Pakistanis stranded in different countries, FM Qureshi pointed out that due to lack of quarantine facilities and closure of airports except the Islamabad airport, it was difficult to bring people from abroad.
“Now, quarantine facilities have been increased and the process to bring back stranded Pakistanis from different countries will start,” he said.
“The foreign office received 39,748 applications from stranded Pakistanis from across the world,” he added.
“The capacity to bring Pakistanis back enhanced from 2,000 persons to 7,000 persons per week.”
To another question about lack of facilities for local doctors, he urged Punjab health minister and secretary to visit Multan at the earliest and resolve their issues.
(With additional input from APP.)