ISLAMABAD: Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar has said the government has decided to waive six months electricity and gas bills of small traders in order to help them cope with economic slump caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The government is trying to address economic woes of the business community, especially small traders and their electricity bills will be waived for next 6 months,” said the minister while briefing the 4th meeting of the parliamentary committee on coronavirus at the Parliament House. The meeting was chaired by Senator Syed Shibli Faraz.
The minister’s statement came on the heels of a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet where the government approved a Rs81 billion financial support package for small businesses.
The businesses financial support package is part of the umbrella Economic Relief Package that Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced last month to help firms and individuals survive the worst shock from a nationwide lockdown and the Covid-19 health emergency.
“Almost 95% small businesses use commercial meters and their electricity and gas bills will be paid by the government during the lockdown,” Azhar told the meeting on Monday.
“A special package of Rs70 billion will be announced soon for laid-off workers associated with industrial sector,” Azhar added.
Talking with reference to the difficulties faced by large businesses, Azhar said such businesses can get facilitation through different financing facilities offered by the State Bank of Pakistan.
“A single package cannot address the issues of all industrial sectors. Sector-specific packages will be devised by the government,” he told the committee.
Senator Shibli Faraz said business and agricultural segments were of vital importance to bring the country out of the present economic and health crises.
“The government is well aware of the sufferings of small and large traders and is ready to facilitate the business community,” he said.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the government was fully cognisant of the issues faced by traders and the masses. He urged all public representatives to cooperate with people at all level.
Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza said there is a dire need to devise unanimous policy regarding lockdown in the country. She called for “cooperative federalism” which would create harmony in the relief efforts and combating Covid-19.
Laying emphasis on the role of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), she said all the issues are needed to be discussed at the CCI level for achieving unanimity in order to control the pandemic.
Earlier, representatives of the business community – Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) President Anjum Nisar and Small Traders Association President Ajmal Baloch – presented issues being faced by the traders.
They said their financial security during the present crisis is responsibility of the government. Painting a worrisome picture of the situation faced by majority of the businessmen, the FPCCI president suggested that the gas and electricity bills of traders be waived.
Nisar called for lifting of restriction on exports, especially Afghan Transit Trade, enforcement of the SBP interest rate with immediate effect, waiver of restriction of the Computerized National Identity Cards (CNIC) on transactions and tax exemptions on the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) sector.
He also suggested implementation of the decision for waiver of demurrage charges imposed on ships at seaports. Apart from waiving the utility bills of shopkeepers and small traders for the duration of this pandemic, Baloch suggested that small traders should be allowed to open their businesses for small duration subject to observance of health guidelines and SoPs by health department.
He also suggested provision of interest free loans to small traders and shopkeepers.
Responding to their concerns particularly with regard to imposition of ban on export through Afghan Transit Trade, Azhar said the majority of the exports to Afghanistan were food items and the said ban was imposed to ensure food security in the country.
Members of the parliamentary committee belonging to opposition urged the government to take unanimous measures to tackle the situation that has emerged due to Covid-19.
They also demanded that the policymakers should focus on trade and business community. They also called for taking note of unscheduled power outages in Balochistan and rural area of the country.
The lawmakers also suggested inviting representatives of farmers’ community in the next meeting of the committee to hear their points of view and know their problems.
The committee unanimously recommended that traders arrested in Karachi be released immediately.