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Opposition parties rap govt for delayed response to virus outbreak

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Multi-party conference criticises authorities for the delay in providing relief to the poor , endorses AWP recommendations, opposes the formation of tiger force

 

Herald Report

 

LAHORE: Opposition political parties and human rights bodies have alerted the federal authorities to the growing frustration among vulnerable families over unnecessary delays in providing them with food rations and other necessities.

The opposition parties criticised the government’s delayed response to the coronavirus outbreak.

They termed the economic relief package for the working class insufficient and opposed the formation of tiger force for distribution of relief package. They demanded government of the reviving local governments and the use of health workers instead of new force.

They alleged that the government is concealing the actual number of people infected with the coronavirus, as it has barred laboratories conducting the tests from making their data public.

They expressed these views at a multi-party conference, hosted by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) through a video link on Wednesday.

The participants, through a joint declaration, expressed concern over the low ratio of tests with those conducted so far showing a rising trend of the infection.

They castigated the government for not devising a mechanism for the delivery of relief goods to the deserving while the lockdown had entered its ninth consecutive day.

Doubting the official data, the opposition parties demanded the government form a parliamentary committee for a daily briefing on the developing situation and urged the Punjab Assembly speaker to take the step if the treasury failed to do so.

Regretting that the official response to the pandemic was slow, they suggested the authorities restore the local bodies or at least utilise the lady health visitors and polio workers for delivering relief goods to the deserving families.

They said that if the workers could administer polio drops to the entire country within three days, they could easily and swiftly distribute relief goods to those in need.

The opposition endorsed the AWP proposal of increasing the relief amount per family to at least Rs20,000 per month and urged the federal government to transfer the promised funds to the provinces at the earliest.

The participants wondered that despite the passage of 75 days since the coronavirus outbreak, the government could not yet provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to doctors and paramedics fighting the virus on the front line. They demanded a supply of 100,000 PPEs immediately to the health workers, cut in the oil prices commensurate with the fall in prices in the global market.

The opposition parties also supported the AWP proposal of waiving off of utility bills and demanded to waive off power bill up to Rs5,000 per month, gas Rs2,000 and water Rs1,000 per month.

They also sought subsidies for the agriculture sector and reducing the interest rate on bank loans down to seven percent to kickstart economic activity in the wake of a recession because of the lockdown worldwide.

Blaming Prime Minister Imran Khan for dividing the nation through setting up of the ‘Tiger Force’ for delivery of relief goods, the multiparty conference demanded the premier donate at least 10 percent of his assets to the coronavirus relief fund to set an example for others.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab President Qamar Zaman Kaira asked the Punjab government to form Mohallah committees like Sindh.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Punjab President Rana Sanaullah claimed that the situation of coronavirus in the province was worsening as the doctors and paramedics had to work without proper protective kits.

The Awami Workers Party (AWP) Punjab President Ammar Rashid who also attended the MPC said that the government’s economic relief package to deal with the coronavirus crisis impact on working class needed to implemented immediately without any further delay and needed to be expanded to at least 20,000 per month for 15 million poorest households to address the enormity of the challenge facing the country today, as an increase of Rs1,000 in the BISP stipend for regular beneficiaries to Rs3,000 a month, and emergency relief payments of Rs12,000 to were not enough to offset the economic burden on the working class and the poor.

He said any concrete economic program to address this crisis needed to also account for the long-term transformation of the economy to serve working people.

Mr Ammar Rashid said 12 to 15 million workers are likely to lose their livelihoods and a basic income paid to them for the period of three months emergenc was the only thing that could enable workers to stay at home to protect themselves and others from the virus.

He also proposed a drastic cut down on non-productive expenses, a 10 to 20% cut in salaries of Grade-19 and above officers, diversion of funds from all major infrastructure projects towards improving public health.

The AWP leader said the Rs200bn economic package offered in relief to textile, construction sector, and exporters does not specify any conditions for the use of this money and suggested that it must be linked with paid leave for all permanent and contractual workers for the period of this crisis.

He also recommended that all textile and garment workers who have been laid off from factories must be reinstated immediately with the government assuming responsibility for half of the wage bill of all factory workers.

He also proposed that resources must be diverted from luxury and non-essential items to the production of medical and personal protective equipment (PPEs) which can also help keep workers employed in this crisis.

The AWP Punjab president also said that the government must provide affordable credit to all small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to enable them to continue to stay afloat and cut the interest rate by a further 300 bps and regulate banks.

The AWP leader also called for setting up a fund for providing unemployment allowance to the youth, and meeting the educational expenses of students, stop the collection of all utility bills below 500 units for the next three months.

Comrade Ammar also called for the nationalisation of private healthcare to ensure free testing and treatment for COVID-19 on all health facilities.

He further said the government’s communication narrative on the virus needed to change as it was still not clearly informing people about the nature of the risk to their lives.

He said that in order to address the challenges of the post-corona order, the government needed to undertake a serious debate about a new social contract, a paradigm shift in national security policy, to divert budget towards the health sector, undertake negotiation with international donors for debt relief and restructuring including writing-off of loans to ensure that Pakistan can effectively create the fiscal space required to address this monumental crisis and protect the lives of its people.

Others who also attended the MPC included Kamil Ali Agha (PML-Q), Farooq Tariq (Left Front), Javed Kasuri (Jamaat-i-Islami), Manzur Khan (National Party), Dr Ateeq (Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl), Jawad Ahmed (Barabri Party Pakistan), and Hassan Murtaza (PPP).

HRCP: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also alerted the authorities to the growing frustration among vulnerable families over unnecessary delays in providing them with food rations and other necessities.

“HRCP believes that the lack of clarity at the level of the federal government – where the prime minister apparently takes a different view of the pandemic from other government functionaries – is exacerbating the situation. This delay is likely to create law and order problems sooner than later and could lead to food riots,” Dr Mehdi Hassan, HRCP Spokesperson said in a statement.

Instead of wasting further time in creating new entities, existing human resources should be mobilised immediately to distribute rations. These include the courageous polio vaccinators, lady health workers, and trained volunteers of the Civil Defence and Red Crescent, who already have proven access to people at the household level across Pakistan. Local civil society organisations can also be used for this purpose under a coordinated plan.

HRCP also demands the restoration of the suspended local governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Without functioning local governments, any relief effort will remain an uphill task.

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