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Covid-19

We Can win the War against Covid-19 with Unity and Sagacity: PM Imran Khan

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ISLAMABAD :Prime Minister Imran Khan stressing on the need of fighting war against Coronavirus with unity and sagacity on Monday announced “PM’s Relief Fund for COVID-19” and a youth force to effectively tackle the situation arising out of the deadly contagion which has so far killed over 30,000 people across the world.

Addressing the nation over radio and television, he urged people including the Overseas Pakistanis to contribute generously in the PM’s Relief Fund for COVID-19 for which an account “NBPaqAPKKAMBR-4162786786” had been opened at the main branch of National Bank of Pakistan Karachi and would be operative from April 1.

The prime minister said those contributing in the PM’s Relief Fund would not be asked any question about the source of their funds, rather they would be given tax incentives.

He said the money raised through this fund would be used for giving financial assistance to the poor people hit by the COVID-19 at their doorsteps, through Ehsas Programme.

The prime minister also announced “Corona Tiger Force” to help the government and institutions to reach out to the poor people affected by the lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 and provide them with food and other essential items.

“God forbids, if Coronavirus spreads, this youth force in coordination with army and administration will reach out to the poor people,” he said and added that this force besides supplying food and other essential items to the poor, would also help create awareness among people about self-quarantine and other safety measures.

The prime minister said the youth from all segments of society including young doctors, nurses and others could join the Corona Tiger Force. The whole operation of the force would be organized and coordinated by a data cell from the PM Office.

Besides, he said, the State Bank of Pakistan had decided to offer soft loans to those industries and factories who would not lay off their employees and laborers in this situation.

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The prime minister further said the philanthropists engaged in the charity work in the wake of Coronavirus should get themselves registered at Ehsas Programme, so that a coordinated effort could be made without any duplication and neglecting any segment.

The prime minister said that he was addressing the nation at a critical time when the whole world was fighting a war against coronavirus by employing their available capacities and resources.

Only one country in this fight had yet emerged successful and that was China which had put a population of about 11 million in Wuhan city under a lockdown, thus, controlling the further spread of virus, he added.

“If we have the same situation, I will have opted for closure of cities here, but we have a serious problem as 25 per cent of our population is living below the poverty line with further 20 per cent population hovering around this line, which means a total of 80-90 million population can head towards complete hunger in that case,” he added.

The prime minister declared that no lockdown could be successful by neglecting the same segments of society and mentioned the Katchi abadis, where clusters of poor families and daily wagers, comprising eight to nine members had been living.

Prime Minister Khan said the coronavirus had no discrimination between the rich and the poor. If the people in posh areas considered themselves immune from contracting the virus, it was a misconception as the virus had been attacking all without discrimination.

“Look around the world what is happening! Even the United Kingdom premier was tested positive with coronavirus,” he added.

The prime minister urged the nation to fight the coronavirus threat through collective efforts.

The rich countries could not fight it alone despite having huge resources, he said and referred to the neighbouring country, India where Prime Minister Modi had to tender apology to the nation over the lockdown issue. The people were on roads as they were facing hunger and death.

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The prime minister said India now faced the danger of people being infected with the virus at large scale once this lockdown was lifted. The people could die of hunger there.

The prime minister while further elaborating his point said that he wanted to tell the nation to fight the war with sagacity and prudence while keeping in view the country’s situation, If the country or any area was put under lockdown, then they would have to serve the each household with foodstuff.

Terming his relief package worth US$8 billion which he announced last week as the biggest one in the country’s history, the prime minister also compared it with that of US government which had committed a huge sum of US$2000 billion because they had rich resources.

The prime minister expressing his confidence in the nation’s capabilities said it possessed the value of ‘faith’ as the biggest resource. The same quality was imbibed in the nation by its founding father Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah with his famous quote of ‘unity, faith and discipline’.

He maintained that with this virtue of faith, Pakistani nation had been the biggest alms giving nation in the world, besides, possessing the huge youth bulge, ranking it second among the world community.

With utilization of these resources (powers), they can fight the coronavirus threat, he said.

The prime minister also warned the hoarders and profiteers from creation of artificial shortage of edible items which gave rise to panic and price hike, thus directly impacting the poor people.

Reiterating that country had no shortage of grains, he said that he wanted to remind the hoarders who often wanted to mint money out of such situation, that state would take the strict action leading to exemplary punishment.

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The prime minister also advised the people to adopt the social distancing as effective precautionary measure by avoiding gathering as such frequent social mingling could lead to spread of coronavirus.

Without practicing precautionary measures, the people could be putting the lives of others in danger especially the older ones.

The prime minister referring to the State of Madina established by the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), said it had been the role model for the whole world as being the first welfare state. It took the responsibility of the vulnerable sections of society.

Pakistan also came into being in the name of Islam. Similarly, unless the people in the Katchi abadis were taken care of, they could not win the war against coronavirus.

He called upon the nation to show a spirit of sacrifice and affection as manifested by Ansar towards Mohajir during the migration from Makkah.
The prime minister said the same spirit was required to defeat the hoarders and profiteers.

He also cautioned that at this stage, they could not predict the spread of virus infection; however, they were regularly monitoring the situation and would be able to inform over the evolving situation after a week.

The prime minister also shared his worry over the way people often looked down upon the infected people.

He said the virus posed threat to only old and vulnerable segments. Hardly only 4 to 5 per cent with acute illness were required to visit hospitals.

The prime minister said that they wanted the relief efforts to be carried out in a coordinated way by all the stakeholders with the government serving as a guiding force. He also shared his experiences of relief activities when the country was devastated with floods and quake in the past.

He said they wanted all the welfare institutions to coordinate and ensure that the resources should not be wasted.

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What will the post-COVID world look like?

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Although virologists have been warning of the risks of a global pandemic since the SARS outbreak in 2003, the world was still mostly unprepared when confronted with the COVID-19 crisis. However, it was also unlucky.

It was unfortunate that the pandemic came in the run-up to a US presidential election that has created an environment as politically polarized as any the country has experienced. As a result, much of the US media coverage of, and debate about, the virus and the global policies needed to deal with its effects have been more about the presidential race rather than the pandemic.

This has obviously had a clear effect on international politics because of the importance of the role of the US and its global leadership.

It was also bad luck that the health crisis came at a time of high tensions between the US and the second largest global power, China, where the virus originated. This further complicated any potential global unified response.

As a result of the global uncertainty, it is difficult to forecast how critical aspects of the crisis, which seems likely to continue for at least another 12 months, will play out in the Middle East, and also what a post-COVID world might look like.

One certainty is that most countries will be forced to shift their focus and resources to domestic matters rather than regional issues.

The virus and the resultant shutdowns imposed to “flatten the curve” of infections have had, and will continue to have, devastating consequences on economies and national budgets. It seems that despite the soft reopening of parts of economies around the world, the current health concerns will prevent a full restoration of business activities for some time, especially if the number of infections and deaths start to rise again after governments relax precautionary measures.

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In our increasingly interconnected world, it is difficult to determine whether any country will come out on top economically, and consequently geopolitically, especially given mounting levels of debt.

Countries able to borrow in their own currency seem to be at an advantage; this applies mainly to the US and the EU (if the European countries can unify their policies), and indirectly also explains the current debate in the Gulf about the unpegging of currencies.

Another certainty is that with less money available, wars and proxy wars will become prohibitively expensive and all parties will be forced to scale down their ambitions. As a result, aggression will be reduced and consensus and agreement might be more readily reached. Countries and their allies or proxies who have refused to sit at the negotiation table might now change their minds and mellow, or perhaps even be forced to completely withdraw from conflict zones.

Take Iran, for instance, which has been targeted recently by a successful US policy of maximum pressure. The country is facing problems domestically and, with the added pressure of low oil prices, it will be less able to maintain its financial support to the Houthis in Yemen, the militias in Iraq, and Hezbollah.

Does that mean Tehran will cease its meddling? Nothing is certain but domestic turmoil might force it to do so.

As Iran’s problems have grown, the region has witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic the emergence of a more assertive Turkey. This has happened despite the fact the country is also suffering economically.

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It has been a long time in the making. Turkish involvement has spread to many regional issues beyond its normal national security zone. Its involvement in neighboring Syria is understandable, given that the conflict there directly threatens Turkey’s security. More interesting is the Turkish interest in Libya, where Ankara is pushing for a continued presence with no apparent direct threat or rationale to explain this. This is happening while it also increases political rhetoric that promises continued interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries in the years to come.

A closer look at the issues reveals that Turkey is focusing its involvement on key points on Europe’s energy routes. This is not surprising, as Europe remains Ankara’s main and constant focus. So, Turkey is now directly competing with Russia — the biggest supplier of gas to Europe — in Syria, where Iran is also strongly entrenched as the country is a key Mediterranean access point for its gas and energy deliveries to Europe.

Turkey is challenging Russia for control of the tap that provides Europe with its energy stability, and this explains its involvement in Libya and other countries. The same logic explains Ankara’s negative reaction to the Israeli-Greek-Cypriot gas-pipeline project, EastMed. This motivates its strategy, as it hopes to leverage it to make more gains in the region.

Therefore, we can expect an increased Turkish focus on the Mediterranean and on supply-chain routes and access points for energy, as well as merchandise being shipped from the East to Europe.

On that point, the land routes of China’s Belt and Road Initiative include one that goes through Russia and another that passes through Turkey. This massive project is also something Turkey is well aware of, and Ankara is striving to ensure it has a presence on key points along the BRI’s Maritime Silk Road. Once again, it is being guided not by national security concerns but a desire to increase its regional clout.

It is difficult to forecast how critical aspects of the corona crisis will play out in the Middle East. 

Khaled Abou Zahr

While Russia and Turkey face off on the ground over an increasing number of issues, it is interesting to note the apparent lack of any direct involvement by the US or China, the two biggest global powers, and, surprisingly, the total absence of European nations, which should be the most concerned about what is happening.

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In weighing how global and regional powers will direct their foreign policies and manage existing conflict zones, their own domestic political, economic and social stability will play an important role.

Yet, apparent weaknesses might invite bold moves and dangerous power-grab attempts. This delicate balance will be the key driver for international policies in the coming years. One might say that uncertainty and volatility have spread from the stock-markets to the geopolitical arena.

  • Khaled Abou Zahr is the CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Courtesy : Arabnews.pk

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China

US warns of ‘consequences’ if China abandons trade deal

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US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday he expects China to uphold a trade deal reached with Washington this year, and warned of “consequences” if the country did not.

The comments come amid a sharp drop in global trade caused by the coronavirus pandemic as well as a dispute between the two powers over fault for the spread of the virus, which first broke out in Wuhan, China.

The US and China in January signed an agreement to end a nearly two year-long trade war, that included a commitment by Beijing to buy an additional $200 billion in American goods over the next two years.

“I’m expecting them to meet their obligations,” Mnuchin said on Fox Business Network.

“I have every reason to expect that they honour this agreement and if they don’t, there would be very significant consequences in the relationship and in the global economy as to how people would do business with them.”

Ties strained

However, relations between Washington and Beijing have soured in recent weeks, with US President Donald Trump blaming China for the pandemic, and threatening tariffs.

The US has been hit with tens of millions of layoffs as the virus has spread, significantly weakening the previously solid economy, which Trump was counting on to win re-election in November.

The trade agreement signed in January includes $77.7 billion in additional purchases from the manufacturing sector, $52.4 billion from the energy sector and $32 billion in agricultural products.

The US currently runs a trade deficit with China, and the objective is to realign the trade balance between the two countries.

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Covid-19

Pakistan’s small businesses hit hard by COVID-19

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Small businesses in Pakistan have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The low demand at home, disruptions in supply chains, constraints in international trading, and expected prolonged lockdowns are now leading to severe cash flow problems, the inability to pay back debts and cancellation of orders from clients. 

This rising uncertainty is gradually leading them to lay off employees which will have welfare implications. In some sectors where recovery is difficult to predict, small businesses have started planning for the worst: complete shutdown. This crisis could also imply a much bleaker outcome for the startup ecosystem in Pakistan.  

The government has announced a SME relief package. The central bank has also come forward to relieve some of the funding and finance related concerns of private enterprises. Yet, many micro and small businesses do not understand how to apply or if they are eligible, to receive such assistance. There are others who argue that this one off relief may not be enough given that businesses are going to face depressed demand for a longer term. Pakistan’s past record of small businesses trying to access such fiscal packages is also not encouraging, partly because many such firms do not access formal banking channels for their needs or banks impose steep collateral requirements. Also, large segments of micro enterprises have the entire or some components of their businesses in the informal sector.

Federal and provincial governments have two issues to address now: how to ensure that small businesses are able to access and utilize existing government-provided assistance, and secondly, what more can be done to support private enterprise in these times.

A progressive fiscal policy and commitment to redistributive taxation is in line with the spirit of Riasat-e-Madinah to which Prime Minister Imran Khan often refers to. A sincere effort is required to reduce the burden of compliance costs faced by small firms- often filing returns several times during a year and to multiple tax bodies across the country. 

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed

On the former, it would be best to start by addressing information and outreach gaps. As the problems for businesses are evolving in real-time, hence there remains a need for structured and more frequent public-private dialogue which should be inclusive enough to also give representation to women, youth-led firms and social enterprises. Such a dialogue will also give a sense to the government about how these businesses will get affected in the forthcoming rounds of Covid-19.

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On the latter, I believe the forthcoming budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 should be seen as an opportunity not only to provide support to collapsing businesses but also to put in place economic incentives that encourage enterprises to consider resilient business models. A large part of this has to do with reimagining a better taxation regime.

A progressive fiscal policy and commitment to redistributive taxation is in line with the spirit of Riasat-e-Madinah to which Prime Minister Imran Khan often refers to. A sincere effort is required to reduce the burden of compliance costs faced by small firms – often filing returns several times during a year and to multiple tax bodies across the country. It is an opportunity now to automate, rationalize or eliminate several filing and payment layers in taxation to ultimately help reduce the cost of doing business.

After a lot of persuasion from local think tanks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), federal and provincial governments agreed to establish a National Tax Council (NTC) to harmonize the general sales tax (GST). 

Currently all provinces have a different structure of GST on services. There are also issues regarding definition of certain activities which the federal government may assume to be under its jurisdiction. Perhaps smaller firms have been the hardest hit due to the fragmented tax structure across the federation and it is time now to expedite NTC’s establishment and work in this direction. Even when the system is finally harmonized, the GST should not be collected by multiple windows at federal and provincial levels. A unified tax return and collection should be made possible through online mechanisms.

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It will also be timely to think about which sectors should be motivated to scale up production and services in the face of this health-related emergency. Hospitals and private clinics operating at micro, small, and medium scale are primary candidates for cut in GST on services and even rationalization in direct tax rates. Firms producing personal protective equipment should also see a relief in taxes. The trade taxes faced by such producers or even hospitals importing from abroad need to be revisited. The agro-based and food processing enterprises will need similar help as their input supplies face price and supply volatilities.

Covid-19 also increased demand on several other sectors providing essential services. Our policy circles have rarely seen these sectors as important for the social and mental wellbeing of society until the pandemic struck. It will now be timely to recognize the services of firms (including schools) providing online services. The economic policy managers must think out of the box how best to leverage e-commerce in the battle against Covid-19. 

– Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is an economist and former civil servant. He is author of ‘Pakistan’s Agenda for Economic Reforms’ published by the Oxford University Press. Twitter: @vaqarahmed

Courtesy : ArabNews

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