Tuesday July 05, 2022

4,000 utility stores not enough for 220m people

February 13, 2020

LAHORE: There are 4,000 utility stores in the country, which are insufficient to meet the demand of 220 million people and help meet the targets under the prime minister’s relief programme. Several utility stores have been closed due to losses, whereas the government has planned to open 50,000 Youth Stores and offer thousands of jobs.

According to sources, the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) is the biggest public sector chain in the country. For the last five years, the USC was facing a loss of Rs 13 billion. On April 14, 2014, the then government ended subsidy to the USC that created a crisis. Companies and contractors stopped supplies to the USC because they were not paid Rs 13 billion arrears. As a result, 25 to 30 utility stores in the provincial metropolis and 1,200 to 1,500 stores in the country were closed. A USC high official, requesting anonymity, said the USC was facing heavy losses in the past. Between 2013 and 2018, the corporation was facing Rs 13 billion loss. During this period, the corporation was to pay Rs 8 billion to other companies. The official said the then MD had repeatedly pointed to this loss.

An official of the USC Admin Directorate, requesting anonymity, said hundreds of stores were closed all over the country due to the negligence of the government. These stores could have been functional after government attention and could help generate revenue. The official claimed that the government is yet to give a proposal to open these stores. Also there is no strategy to increase these stores.

The officer admitted that 1,200 to 1,500 stores across the country were lying closed. In the Lahore alone, 25 to 30 stores were shut down. When contacted, USC Coordinator Muhammad Murtaza told Jang the subsidy to the USC had been withdrawn in 2014 which caused gradual increase in losses. He said many stores were closed while most were relocated to place to perfoem better.

He said that though the existing number of stores were not sufficient, they were providing relief to masses. Amid inflation, supply to these stores is increased because of which the hoarders bring commodities in the market leading to price reduction. This way masses get direct relief, he added.

Murtaza said that plan to increase the number of stores has been drawn under which 2000 youth stores would be set up in the first phase while the closed stores would be operationalised. He said the subsidised supply to franchised utility stores would be increased and 50,000 stores would be opened across the country. Guidelines for the first phase would be ready in two weeks, he said, adding that this measure would generate employment.