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March 27, 2020

Bureaucratic delays in incentive distribution may take lives


March 27, 2020

LAHORE: There is a long time lag between the announcement of incentives and their implementation. The implementation of those announcements is subject to issuance of notification by the bureaucracy which is inordinately delayed. Coronavirus related incentives require immediate implementation. But are we ready?

After lockdown most of the daily wagers have lost the income they used to earn to feed their families on daily basis. It is true that many of them are not engaged daily, and keeping that in mind they do save a little every time they earn to manage food when they do not get work.

But this buffer of resources is for maximum two to three days. In fact, if they do not find work on the third straight day, they are loaned small amount from their fellow daily wagers. After lockdown they have been deprived of work for four days in Punjab and over 8 days in Sindh.

They have exhausted all their resources. Their relatively well to do colleagues are also not in a position to loan them any money.

In this situation, even a meagre amount of Rs3,000 per month announced by the government is a substantial help. This would at least allow them to buy 20kg wheat flour, 3kg gram pulse (the cheapest), 2kg ghee or edible oil, 1kg sugar, 2kg rice, 2 litre kerosene or other kitchen fuel, salt and match boxes.

This ration would at least partially feed them for two to three weeks. They would not be able to pay their utility bills during the period of lockdown and neither would afford to clear their monthly rent.

Let us hope that the private sector also pitches in to provide some assistance to the poor. The middle class fortunately is already doing it in their neighbourhoods.

But the government help is urgently needed. For once the government should ensure that there are no bureaucratic delays and there is no favouritism in the distribution of the sanctioned amount.

Pakistan never faced such a severe crisis in its history. The earthquake in October 2005 did take thousands of lives, but was restricted to a specific region and the aid and assistance was immediately made available by the private sector much before the government moved in.

The overseas Pakistanis pitched in with valuable contribution in reconstruction of earthquake resistant houses. The floods in 2010 similarly devastated regions around river beds and were tackled by the entire unaffected population as a national responsibility.

This time around, the movements are locked everywhere not only in Pakistan but also in most of the developing economies from where the overseas Pakistanis used to rush to help their countrymen.

Free mobility is only available to the armed forces, law enforcing agencies and a part of bureaucracy.

The government should come out with its stipend distribution plan urgently. We are all in the dark as to whether the government has the statistics in hand to ensure the distribution of the stipend by April 1, 2020. Even that would be very late as many families would be starving.

Any further delay in fair distribution would be devastating for the poor. The poor are locked down and the law enforcers are stricter on compliance by them than the car owners.

The poor also live in congested space. Many families comprising 7-10 persons are locked down in small 8x10 rooms. They are more likely to get infected than the richer segment of society where each family member has a separate bedroom.

Our traditional method of distributing alms is to announce that charity would be available at a designated place and time. People in normal days, scramble to get the charity - usually ration – which creates a commotion. There are many instances when precious lives were lost in the stampede during distribution of ration or charity. This time around we cannot afford such type of charity distribution.

Unfortunately, in our quest for economic stabilisation, we deprived most of the population of its resources through high inflation, and mass closure of industries.

We never had a plan in place for any natural calamity. Our statistics are still based on guess work. We have NADRA database that at least gives a glimpse of the economic status of the computerised national identity card holder. No one in the Ministry of Labour or the Planning Commission had made any serious effort to analyse that data and prepare a national economic plan accordingly.