LAHORE: The quality of leadership would determine the management of lockdown, as most of the workforce would not be able to go to work. Registered workers might escape hardship, but providing assistance to unregistered workers would need dedicated leadership.
Our economy was already in shambles and most of the industries were barely surviving, something that was already evident due to closures of a large number of small industries, and sharp decline in large scale manufacturing.
Under these circumstances, entrepreneurs would be hard-pressed to bear the salaries of their employees without any production. But the economic relief package might bound most of the industries to bear the salary cost.
However, the dispensation of compensation to the daily wagers is more important and needs full transparency and accurate data. We have seen that despite availability of NADRA data, numerous undeserving persons benefitted from the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP).
The government has at its disposal the record of BISP beneficiaries, but this would cover part of the poor. In fact many daily wagers were not even counted as poor as they were managing their families through hard work. The government does not have the statistics about these daily wagers and has prepared the estimates in haste. The distribution system would have to be foolproof and need a dedicated person.
There are two issues; the first is to ensure that the novel coronavirus is eliminated from the country. For this we need strict administrative measures to ensure successful lockdown. The government has called in armed forces in this regard and they have the capability to achieve this task. We have seen the previous Punjab government effectively tackle dengue in the province through a dedicated approach and technology.
Coronavirus however is altogether a different ball game. It is much larger in magnitude. But if we look at the dengue issue, we find that it was only the then Punjab government that handled the menace satisfactorily. The same ailment played havoc later in Punjab and other provinces, although the procedure of its earlier control was fully documented in Punjab. The second major issue is the fair distribution of resources (cash/ration) to the poor as well as daily wagers. The ideal procedure is to provide these services at the doorstep of the needy. There will be no earning for the daily wagers during the lockdown period. For some of them self-respect is more important than begging.
Calling them to receive state aid might also create commotion that would be against the spirit of social isolation. It is an uphill task that cannot be left to the stiff-necked bureaucrats or workers of a single political party. We cannot use this occasion for political point scoring. The distribution of resources should be above political lines or self-interest. We will have to be very careful and evolve a unified strategy to provide real time assistance for the needy.
The general behavior of the nation even in times of crisis reveals that most of the people look for gains even in adversity. As soon as the virus threat became imminent, the prices of masks increased 10-20 times.
Sanitizer manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to make a fortune. The anti-malarial drug that is said to be effective against coronavirus is available at many times higher price. We have proved that we do not waste any opportunity to fleece the public, even if it is a national tragedy.
Still Pakistan has survived because the general public is resilient and stands united in case of any emergency. We have seen unarmed citizens storming towards borders to fight the Indian army.
The Pakistani army had to plead with them to go back and leave defense to them. The poor and middle class parted with its cash and jewelry when a prime minister appealed to help government in retiring our debt.
Even today, most of the assistance is coming from the poor. We have seen middle class families stitching face masks that they distribute among the poor. Some are producing homemade sanitizers for free distribution. Middle class families at least in cities are distributing ration among the poor in their localities.
The behavior of the richer segment of society would be of utmost important for our economic future. They would lose thousands of highly skilled workers if left without resources because of suspended production.
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