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February 23, 2021

Essential prices

Editorial

 
February 23, 2021

Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has finally acknowledged the fact that controlling the prices of essential goods remains a major challenge. This challenge is even more daunting for consumers reeling under the rising inflation in the country. It has been over 30 months since the PTI government assumed office with promises to cater to the needs of the common people in the country. But most of this time has been spent in blaming previous governments for the economic and financial woes the country has been facing. Though some progress has been made in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, the plight of the people belonging to the lower socioeconomic strata has been worsening, with vulnerable groups finding it hard to cope with their daily subsistence needs. The emergency cash programme under the Ehsaas Programme – a modified version of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) – has given some relief but still the challenge is enormous.

The first priority of the government must be to stop the rise in prices. A look at the weekly inflation data released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) in the third week of February shows that the prices of essential goods have increased once again. This is in quite a contrast with what the government has been claiming. Since the PBS calculates the Sensitive Price Index (SPI) based on the prices of 51 essential items from 50 markets across 17 cities in the country, the government needs to take it seriously. The data shows that the prices of chicken increased by nearly nine percent and pulse gram by nearly 2.4 percent. The prices of various pulses, eggs and rice also showed an uptick. The same applies to non-food items that experienced an increase in prices by various percentage points. Though some food items such as tomatoes and potatoes are reported to have shown slight decline in prices, the overall impact of inflation remains high, as 25 items recorded an increase and just eight items showed a decline during the third week of February.

The government has also increased the price of ghee by Rs30 per kg for sale at Utility Stores, showing an upsurge of as much as 15 percent in one go. The price of ghee was increased from Rs170 per kg to Rs200 per kg abruptly. The Utility Stores introduced by the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in the 1970s are a primary source of subsidized food items for the general public. If the current government keeps increasing prices at these stores, the people will lose faith in these stores too. This increase has been meted out to the public under the guise of ‘rationalization of prices’ as recommended by the Ministry of Industries. Primarily, essential goods should be available at affordable prices across the country. The network of Utility Stores is limited and does not cover vast tracts of land in Pakistan. The government must make efforts to keep inflation in check, because obviously a simple acknowledgment of its failure to do so is not of much help to the people.