The government finally appears to have noticed that the big guns of the business world are not the only ones whose pockets are feeling lighter because of the coronavirus lockdown. The worst-hit victims — small businesses and daily-wage workers — had gotten little in the form of relief, especially compared to the hundreds of billions pumped into big businesses, until now. The ECC has allocated Rs75 billion to assist labourers and daily-wage workers who are out of work due to the lockdowns. Another Rs50.69 billion has been set aside to provide indirect support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through pre-paid electricity. The assistance for small businesses will be available for commercial connections of less than five kilowatts and industrial consumers using less than 70 kilowatts. According to Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar, around 3.5 million people running small businesses like tailor shops, and small industrial units will benefit.
The government is also working on a zero-interest loan package which, if properly deployed, could be a Godsent for small businesses. A credit-loss subsidy of Rs30 billion to support employment and discourage employers from laying off workers was also approved. The relief package for daily-wage workers aims to provide Rs12,000 each to as many as six million people. But the devil is in the detail. Azhar says that labourers will have to register themselves by accessing a web portal and filling in some information. Despite the ubiquity of cell phones, computer literacy is still very low. Among daily wage workers, literacy itself is also very low, leaving them open to exploitation by agents, or worse yet, unable to access any of the funds. Meanwhile, older people and those lacking technical knowledge have been left in the lurch regarding both income support and loan programmes.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2020.
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