KARACHI: The centre and the provinces have agreed on five working days a week for government offices.
A wiser step would have been for the government to direct its departments and offices to stop wasting resources, particularly energy. Government workers already shirk their responsibilities and this extra holiday may make them even more sluggish.
The government also announced that industrial areas will be closed for one day per week on a staggered basis. This means that one industrial area will stay shut on Sunday and another will stay shut on Monday, and so on.
This is to divert 150 million cubic feet of gas per day to power plants which should help ease the power shortfall and increase its supply.
The government also announced that the markets and shopping centres should be closed by 8 pm. “We are competing with regional countries in the export market and an extra day off for government offices, particularly Customs House and banks, will delay our shipments,” Anjum Nisar, former president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry told The Express Tribune.
The government should clear the money that is owed to the Pakistan State Oil (PSO), stressed Nisar. “If the PSO gets its dues it will have finances for import of fuel oil and will be able to supply the oil smoothly to power plants,” he said, talking about the PSO’s receivables stuck in circular debt.
He said that the Pakistan Electric Power Company would cut power supply to the Karachi Electric Supply Company by 300 megawatts, adding that the Karachi utility would manage this through by closing industrial areas on a staggered basis.
About the early market closure, Nisar said that, the government should ensure uninterrupted power supply to the markets and shopping centres till 8 pm. “If traders don’t get electricity during business hours, how will they survive,” he asked.
Lahore Township Industrial Association Chairman Zaheer Bhutta opposed the cut in gas supply to the industries and instead offered to substantially reduce the consumption of gas.
“Exempt us from the cuts in gas supply, and we will voluntarily reduce our consumption by 50 per cent,” he said. He asked the government to set up a separate 49-megawatt power plant for the Kot Lakhpat industrial zone where 500 factories are operating.
Banks and financial institutions disbursed Rs166 billion among farmers in the first nine months (July to March) of the fiscal year 2009-10, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Farmers borrow money to purchase seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs to cultivate their crops.
The credit disbursement target for the full year is Rs260 billion. However, “the requirement of the agriculture sector is more than Rs600 billion,” said the Director of the Farmers Association of Pakistan, Rabia Sultan.
“This huge gap forces small farmers to approach the informal sector for borrowing which lends them money at extremely high interest rates ranging from 40 to 45 per cent,” she said.
Zarai Taraqiati Bank, the specialised agriculture bank, extends funds to farmers at an eight per cent interest rate while other banks provide money at 18 to 22 per cent. Rabia said small farmers did not want to borrow money from banks because they fear documentation and the 10 per cent processing fee. “This fee is actually a bribe they are forced to pay,” she said.
She said that cumbersome procedures should be done away with and bank branches should be within the reach of small farmers in rural areas.