ISLAMABAD: As opposition parties gear up to launch their anti-government campaign from the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) platform with price hike as one of its key agenda items, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday vowed to use all available resources of the state to bring down food prices in the country.
Admitting that there is a price-hike in the country, the prime minister through his official social media account on Twitter told the nation that the government was already trying to find causes for the price-hike.
“From next week, we will have our strategy in place and action will begin using all state organisations and resources to bring down food prices,” the prime minister tweeted amid criticism from the major opposition parties against government’s economic policies.
“Starting from Monday in coming week, our government will use all the resources at the disposal of the state to bring down food prices. We are already examining causes of the price-hike; whether there is a genuine supply shortage or simply hoarding by mafias, smuggling, if any, or a price rise (is) due to international prices such as for palm oil, lentils etc,” Mr Khan added.
Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar through a separate tweet while terming the food inflation spike in South Asia “temporary” declared that the government would take all necessary steps to reduce prices of essential commodities.
“(The) Government will take all measures needed to reduce prices of essential commodities. Imported wheat and sugar will be released at controlled rates by provinces. All options are being examined for other commodities,” the minister explained.
The announcement from the prime minister came three days after a number of ministers while reviewing the economic situation during the weekly federal cabinet meeting expressed resentment over the prevailing price hike and called for taking immediate steps to bring down inflation to prevent the opposition from “exploiting the issue” during its anti-government campaign.
Some ministers reportedly criticised unelected members of the PM’s economic team, complaining that the elected representatives had to face the public.
Later, federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz admitted during the media briefing that the cabinet and the prime minister had expressed concern over the prevailing inflation in the country.
“The prime minister has issued directives for making a strategy to bring down the prices to provide relief to the masses,” he said.
‘Sindh govt behind price hike’
Stating that wheat and sugar stocks were available as per country’s requirements, the minister alleged that wheat prices were higher only in Sindh because the Pakistan Peoples Party-led provincial government was not releasing the stocks.
About hike in wheat prices in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mr Faraz held monsoon rains and flooding responsible for it. He said crops in the province had damaged in recent months. He further disclosed that the country would also not be able to achieve the cotton crop target this year due to the damage caused by floods.
In the same cabinet meeting, the ministers, however, approved the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) decisions to increase gas tariff for specific commercial consumers and passing on fuel adjustment charges to end-consumers of electricity. According to the ECC decision, the increase in gas tariff will be applicable to industries, CNG and power sectors, excluding domestic consumers and tandoors.
The ECC also decided to rationalise the tariff for the power sector’s fuel adjustment charges and quarterly adjustments from November 2019 to June 2020. With this decision, there would have been an increase in power tariff to Rs1.62 per unit, but as the ECC also added about Rs1.30 per unit subsidy to the price for consumers, the net increase to be passed on to the consumers using up to 200 units a month would be Re0.32 (32 paisas).
In their press conferences, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders and other opposition members while criticising government’s economic policies have been presenting a comparison of electricity and gas tariff and the prices of food during their regime.
According to the official data available on the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) website, the Sensitive Price Index (SPI) for the week ending on October 8 recorded an increase of 1.24 per cent over the previous week “mainly due to a rise of 1pc or more in prices of food items”.
PBS data shows that prices have been rising in the country for more than a year largely because of disruptions in food supply chains and periodic hikes in the administered prices of electricity and gas rather than a surge in demand for goods and services. It says during the week, out of 51 items, prices of 24 (47.06pc) items increased, and 23 items remained constant (45.10pc), with prices of only four items decreased. The year-on-year trend depicts an increase of 11.28pc with prices of wheat flour bag increasing (by 18.32pc), sugar (32.08pc), bread (19.41pc), tomatoes (117pc), chilies powder (86.31pc), potatoes (64.75pc), pulse Moong (41.13pc), eggs (40.82pc), pulse Mash (34.66pc), pulse Masoor (25.72pc) and vegetable ghee (17.43pc).
Easy loan for entrepreneurs
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan has constituted a high-level steering committee under deputy governor of the State Bank of Pakistan to ensure smooth and undisrupted grant of youth entrepreneurship loans.
Presiding over a meeting with heads of various banks from across the country to discuss provision of easy loans under Kamyab Jawan Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, the PM sought regular update on its progress.
The meeting was informed that 21 banks were taking part in the scheme, which had assured to disburse Rs15 billion loans this year.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2020