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March 25, 2020

Shahbaz Sharif asks govt to enforce financial emergency

Top Story

March 25, 2020

LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President and Opposition Leader in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif has called upon the federal government to enforce a financial emergency to preempt financial hardships of people amidst national fight against coronavirus.

Addressing a press conference here on Tuesday, he urged the federal government to immediately reduce the policy rate by at least four per cent besides reducing interest payments so as to create a fiscal space to provide financial relief to vulnerable segments of Pakistan. “We are all together, irrespective of political affiliations, in the fight against the pandemic of coronavirus, and it will be a sin to bring politics into a national cause to protect our people from the scourge of COVID-19,” said the three-time chief minister of Punjab, who is known for his leadership skills in successfully containing the dengue epidemic of 2011 in Punjab.

Shahbaz, who had earlier recommended an immediate lockdown in Pakistan, backed the Punjab government’s step to enforce a partial lockdown and calling of armed forces to augment the efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus at the community level. Dilating upon his vision of financial emergency, he urged to reduce the price of oil to Rs 70 per litre, which will reduce the cost of inflation and provide immediate relief to people. “This move will also not hurt the government,” he believed.

He said the welfare funds of federal agencies like Employees Old-age Benefit Institution (EOBI) should be used to solve the financial problems of Pakistanis.

He called upon the government to include an additional three million women in the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and raise the poverty score to bring down bar of poverty line.

He proposed that those involved in the programme should be paid with Easypaisa so that the banks are not crowded and immediate distribution is initiated. He said the poor families in urban areas, which are not included in the BISP, should be registered and the government should pay Rs 3,000 per month to each family.

“This benefit should continue till emergency,” he proposed. As the medical fraternity is the frontline soldiers in the fight against coronavirus, he proposed to double the salaries of all doctors, nurses and health workers immediately.

In households whose electricity bill is less than Rs 5,000 per month, Shahbaz said the government should take responsibility to pay children’s school fees.

In households whose electricity bill is Rs 5,000 and gas bill is Rs 2,000 per month, he demanded deferring payments of their bills. The opposition leader regretted the debacle of Taftan, courtesy the government’s negligence to properly screen and quarantine Zaireen at the Pak-Iran border, which became the reason of the spread of COVID-19 in Pakistan. So far, he said, as many as 890 patients have been confirmed as coronavirus positive, while a prisoner has also been confirmed with COVID-19. “The government must take necessary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus among prisoners,” he added.

He urged the prime minister to immediately call a meeting of the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and engage all chief ministers to augment the efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. “All parties and stakeholders must be given due representation in the National Taskforce,” he added.

He said the government must contact foreign countries to acquire ventilators and other vital equipment as a preemptive measure to cater to any emergency due to coronavirus in the next few days. He said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has also conveyed a message of solidarity and good wishes to the people of Pakistan in the fight against coronavirus.

Later, while participating in the All Parties Conference (APC) on the single-point issue of coronavirus, Shahbaz termed the global fight against the pandemic the World War III as he believed it is the biggest challenge confronting the world since the World War II. He said all parties have put aside their political interests and come together in the larger national interest to steer the nation out of the healthcare crisis. He urged the federal government to devise a National Action Plan in consultation with all leaders of opposition parties. “This proposal is also endorsed by PPP Co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari,” he added.

Shahbaz also advised the federal government to make media partner in this hour of trial to make a concerted effort to wage a war against the scourge of coronavirus and protect people against the devastating effects of this disease. In this connection, he urged the government to immediately release Jang/Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman to send a message of unity in the battle against this natural calamity.

Meanwhile, Shahbaz called a party meeting through video link on Wednesday (today) at 2pm to discuss the crisis confronting the people of Pakistan. “All PML-N members of national and provincial assemblies, Senate and Central Executive Committee will participate in the meeting,” PML-N Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal said.