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PM announces Huge Relief Package to tackle Economic Slowdown due to Covid-19 Pandemic

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Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday announced a huge relief package aimed at providing financial support to the different sectors of economy affected by the economic slowdown unleashed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) all over the globe.

During an interaction with media persons, the prime minister said the government had decided to allocate Rs 200 billion for the labour class, which had been hit hard in the difficult times.

To help the industrial sector and especially the export sector, it was decided to release tax refunds amounting to Rs100 billion, besides, deferring of the interest payment to bolster this sector, he added.

For the small and medium industry, and agriculture sector, another amount of Rs 100 billion was set aside with deferred interest payment, the prime minister said, adding concessional loans would also being extended to the sectors. The government wanted to bring down the input costs for the farmers.

Other packages, he said, included additional amount of 50 billion for the Utility Stores, Rs 280 billion for the wheat procurement, slashing of petrol and diesel prices by Rs15 per liter for which the government would have to bear the burden of Rs75 billion. An amount of Rs100 billion was allocated separately for the emergency situation, he added.

The prime minister said power consumers using 300 units and gas users with Rs 2,000 monthly bills would be facilitated to deposit their bills through three monthly installments. A sum of Rs 50 billion was also allocated for the medical staff. The National Disaster Management Authority would get Rs 25 billion for purchase and procuring of kits, he announced.

Imran Khan said for the vulnerable families who were bearing the brunt of the difficult time, it was decided to allocate an amount of Rs 150 billion for a period of four months.

He said they were also expanding the network of Panagah (shelter houses) where the precautionary measures had been strictly practised.

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Besides, he said, it was decided to either completely cut taxes or reduce them on different edible items.

For the construction industry, the government would announce a separate package within days, which, he promised, had never been witnessed in the country’s history. Reiterating that the country could not afford a complete lockdown with the imposition of curfew, the prime minister said the situation in the country so far did not warrant for resorting to that last step.

However, he added, the government would review the situation after a couple of weeks. The provincial governments after the 18th Constitutional Amendment could take their decisions while the role of the Federal Government was only that of an advisory, he replied to a query.

The Federal Government, he said, could only give guidelines but could not direct the provinces against their decisions. The provincial governments could react to a situation, but should also give consideration to the evolving situation.

“God forbids, nobody knows the evolving situation, which might also compel us for the imposition of curfew after two weeks,” he added.

Advisor to the PM on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Food Security Khusru Bakhtiar, Advisor to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, and NDMA Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal were also present on the occasion.

Comparing the situation in Spain, Italy, France and other European countries, the prime minister said with about 900 cases in Pakistan, the government team had been taking cognizance of the evolving situation regularly.

Enforcing a curfew would lead to complete halting of transport, which could badly affect the food and medical supplies.

__PM Imran Khan

Such steps could have strong damaging effects upon the society and economy, especially on the downtrodden or the poor class, who had been living in clusters in the Katchi Abadis.

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The prime minister differentiating between the lockdown and curfew also shared his concerns that the evolving situation of the COVID 19 outbreak could stretch over to six months.

“Whatever decisions the government take, I am fully responsible for them. All the economic decisions are being taken with the consensus of my economic team,” he added.

To another question, he regretted that the economic situation had been improving in the country as the macroeconomic indicators witnessed rising, but the COVID 19 outbreak cast unintended consequences upon the economy. The year 2019 had been the most difficult time of his life, he added.

The prime minister, to a question, replied that in case of emergency, the country would require a volunteer force comprising the youth, besides creation of funds. The youth and overseas Pakistanis would be tapped in such like scenario.

Dilating upon the issue of complete lockdown, he further regretted that confusion and impression had been created in the country. Taking wrong decisions at the current critical stage was more dangerous than the spread of coronavirus, he warned.

The prime minister said the government was extra cautious in taking certain steps, which should benefit the country and the nation. During the first National Security Committee meeting, when the country had reported just 21 cases, the gradual lockdown started with the closure of the schools, besides stoppage of public gatherings.

In the past, decisions were taken for the interests of the selected elite class and there were different systems for different classes, he said and regretted that the same response was being also witnessed in the country over the coronavirus.

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The prime minister said it was a collective fight of humanity and a single government could not fight it alone.

The public response to the government’s measures like those witnessed in China was vital for achieving the objectives, he stressed and urged the nation to fully cooperate with the government’s calls to control the spread of the Pandemic .

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Economy

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are back on track

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Saudi Arabia at the personal invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Riyadh ahead of this high-profile visit to lay the groundwork for what is being described by the media as a major boost in Saudi-Pakistan ties, especially in terms of economic, trade and environmental cooperation.

This augurs well for the two brotherly countries, as their historic friendship faced an unfortunate rupture last year.

Luckily the leadership on both sides was resilient enough to see through the challenge and bring Saudi-Pakistan ties back on track.

To be sure, this resilience is rooted in the people-to-people relationship, which eventually helps them overcome temporary glitches and sustain cooperation on issues of mutual concern and interest. This time is no different — and here is why.

Soon after his election as prime minister in August 2018, Khan was able to develop a personal relationship with the crown prince.

He traveled to Saudi Arabia twice in the next two months, the second time at the personal invitation of the crown prince to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

Khan had inherited a serious balance of payments crisis. So Saudi Arabia took the lead in offering a financial relief package of $6.2 billion, including $3 billion in loans and a $3.2 billion deferred oil payment facility.

Taking a cue from Riyadh, the UAE followed suit by offering $6 billion in additional support to Pakistan.

When the Saudi crown prince visited Pakistan in February 2019, he was personally driven by Khan to the prime minister’s house in Islamabad, up on the hill in Islamabad.

In another example that symbolized the personal chemistry between the two charismatic leaders, the crown prince cheerfully told the Pakistani premier: “I am your ambassador in Saudi Arabia.” (Later in the year, the crown prince would offer his personal plane to Khan to fly to New York for the UN summit. And even while Saudi-Pakistan ties briefly experienced a bad spell in 2020, Khan declared: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will always remain close friends.”)

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That historic visit to Pakistan by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2019 witnessed a major transition in Saudi-Pakistan strategic relations in the economic sphere, with the announcement of $20 billion of Saudi investments in Pakistan, including a $10 billion Aramco oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the strategic port city of Gwadar.

The rest of the investments were in the mining and renewable energy sectors.

This was in parallel with the efforts to sign the Free Trade Agreement to increase the volume of bilateral trade, which was worth $2 billion.

In the past, the two nations cooperated closely in security and geopolitical matters, and Saudi economic help was confined to oil concessions. Now, for the first time, the Kingdom was interested in the long-term economic development of Pakistan.

This promising moment in Saudi-Pakistan ties is occurring amid a favorable turnaround in regional geopolitics, marked by breakthroughs on different fronts.

Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri

In particular, the choice of Gwadar for such an investment stake indicated the Saudi inclination to join the wider regional integration network: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

In the natural order of things, the next logical step would have been to jointly work out the development plans for the proposed Saudi economic projects in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, international forces inimical to Saudi Arabia’s exceptional position in the Muslim world, and the historic Saudi-Pakistan alliance, could not digest the fact that the two brotherly nations were taking their relationship to a different level, where their interests could be geo-economically intertwined in future.

What happened next is a sad part of our current history, which is not worth recalling.

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What is worth stating, however, is that Saudi Arabia is, and will remain, the heart of Islam for the Muslims of the world, and no other country can claim such a right: That the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the sole representative body of 57 Muslim countries and no attempt to create an alternative Muslim bloc will ever succeed; and, of course, the fact that Saudi-Pakistan ties are well-rooted in the love and affection that their people have for each other, and hence no conspiracy can hamper their organic evolution as historic partners.

That is why the false narrative regarding the OIC’s role in Kashmir did not take hold for long. That is why the dismal portrayal of Saudi economic support for Pakistan finally failed the test of times.

Fortunately, both nations have formal and informal channels of communication to overcome any instance of grave misunderstanding or deliberate misinformation impacting their relationship.

Their bond is unbreakable as it is founded on the will of the two peoples.

Hence, the two brotherly nations have always stood shoulder to shoulder with each other in difficult times. From defending the sanctity of the two holy mosques to defeating the scourge of terrorism, Pakistan has always been a key Saudi partner.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia has never disappointed Pakistan when it is faced with hard times, be it the wave of terrorism post-9/11 or the devastating earthquake of 2005.

The two countries also closely cooperate to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan. The current or emerging Saudi engagement in Pakistan reflects the same spirit of camaraderie with Islamic roots.

In retrospect, what the visit of Prime Minister Khan to Jeddah shows is that the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is back to the level it was at when the crown prince visited Islamabad more than two years ago.

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The decision by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to roll over $2 billion loans to next year implies the resumption of their respective financial relief packages, which Pakistan desperately needs to ward off the devastating effects of the third wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The visit is expected to kick-start work on the $20 billion Saudi development projects in Pakistan, especially the Aramco oil refinery and petrochemical complex in Gwadar.

To boost bilateral trade, a comprehensive customs cooperation accord is also reportedly on the agenda.

Moreover, General Bajwa’s almost week-long interaction with his Saudi counterparts, and the recent appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar as Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, will ensure enhanced coordination in defense and the strategic relationship between the two countries.

In fact, this time the relationship is expected to deliver deeper cooperation beyond defense and the economy, on issues of climate change in particular.

Khan shares the vision of the crown prince as set out in the recently announced Saudi Green and Green Middle East initiatives, which align with his government’s Clean and Green Pakistan initiative.

And, luckily, this promising moment in Saudi-Pakistan ties is occurring amid a favorable turnaround in regional geopolitics, marked by the Saudi olive branch to Iran, the end of the Qatar crisis, and the India-Pakistan cease-fire in Kashmir.

These developments surely open up the diplomatic space for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to concentrate their joint efforts for economic development and regional stability.

• Dr Ali Awadh Asseri served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2009 and received Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Hilal-e-Pakistan, for his services in promoting the Saudi-Pakistan relationship. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Beirut Arab University and authored the book ‘Combating Terrorism: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the War on Terror’ (Oxford, 2009).

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Economy

Finance Minister for KP and Punjab called on the Minister for Finance and Revenue

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Finance Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) Mr. Taimur Saleem Khan Jhagra called on the Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue, Mr. Shaukat Tarin, at the Finance Division today. SAPM on Finance and Revenue Dr. Waqar Masood and Secretary Finance Division Kamran Ali Afzal were also present during the meeting.

The Provincial Finance Minister from KP briefed the Finance Minister about efforts undertaken by the Provincial government to curtail expenditure and rationalize spending with a key focus on providing maximum relief to the masses amid COVID-19 pandemic. He also outlined measures taken to enhance provincial tax collection by expanding tax base and reducing the number of taxes.

The Provincial Finance Minister KP further apprised about commitment of the KP Government to streamline pay and pension expenditure which takes the biggest chunk of the overall Budget.

In his remarks, the Finance Minister Mr. Shaukat Tarin urged the Provincial administration to adhere to strict financial discipline and work out modalities to rationalize expenditure and divert savings towards socio-economic development in the Province particularly amid COVID-19 and in post COVID-Scenario. He stressed to stimulate economic activity through out-of-box thinking for enhancing revenues, rationalizing workforce and harmonizing tax structure aiming at improving service delivery in the Province.

While discussing Budget proposals, the Federal Finance Minister stressed that Education and Health are the key priority areas and must be given preference during the Budget making exercise. He encouraged consultative process between the Federal Government and Federating units for effective resource mobilization.

Later, Finance Minister for Punjab Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht also called on the Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue, Mr. Shaukat Tarin at the Finance Division.

ALSO READ:  Five Industries the Most impacted by Covid-19 Pandemic

The Provincial Finance Minister briefed the Federal Finance Minister about the overall fiscal position and upcoming Budget considerations during the meeting. He highlighted the steps taken by the Punjab Government to provide maximum relief to the vulnerable segments of the society during these testing times. He spelled out the vision and commitment of the Punjab Government to increase revenues, control expenditure, job creation, reduction of poverty and facilitating agriculture, Industrial and service sectors to tap true potential of these sectors for an export-led growth.

In his remarks, the Finance Minister emphasized the need for value-addition in Budget making exercise. He urged the Provincial Finance Minister to rationalize expenditure and harmonize taxation policies for a growth-oriented Budget.

The Finance Minister held meetings with the Provincial Finance Ministers as a part of an overall consultative process with key stakeholders including Provinces to seek valuable inputs for formulation of a people friendly growth-oriented Budget.

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Digital

Freelancer.com Q1 FY21: Record breaking-quarter

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Freelancer Ltd., the owner of Freelancer.com, has reported a 39% rise in gross payment volume to $192.9 million (AU$249.7 million) in Q1 2021 and a 32.1% rise in net cash receipts year-on-year to $12 million (AU$15.6 million). Both figures have set record highs for the Sydney-based company. 

Freelancer Ltd. includes both its freelancing marketplace and Escrow.com, an online escrow service founded in 1999 in San Francisco and purchased by Freelancer.com in 2015.

Freelancer.com’s Q1 gross marketplace volume (payments to freelancers) totaled $25.9 million, up 23.6% y-on-y, and its cash receipts set another record at $10.1 million, up 31.4% y-on-y. The group reports that 72% of its revenue is in USD and 4% is in AUD. 

Freelancer (FLN) has traded on the ASX in Australia since 2013 and in March 2021 it began trading in the US on the OTCQX Best Markets under the symbol FLNCF, upgrading from the Pink market. At the time of writing, FLN shares were up 8.81% and FLNCF was trading at $.65, up 3.26%.

Freelancer Enterprise, the company’s virtual workforce management system, grew its gross marketplace volume by 83.4% y-on-y and the average spend by key accounts is up 2.3x y-on-y. In addition to financials, Freelancer.com reported reaching 52.7 million registered users and 19.7 million jobs, with 1.9 million users and 519,000 jobs added in Q1, and a 105.7% increase in website traffic y-on-y to 16.4 million users.

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