LAHORE: Pakistan had 60 million people unemployed even before the pandemic, while the current crisis has added an estimated 20 million more, said former finance minister Sartaj Aziz during an online conference held on Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Reforms.
Aziz stressed the need for a comprehensive ‘Corona Revival Plan’, adding that the agriculture sector needed special attention since it was the economy’s backbone. He also highlighted the need for “efficient water policy and better water management”.
“The government must support SMEs as they employ a large number of people,” he stated, lamenting that the government was yet to announce a support package for the informal sector, small vendors and traders.
“They have a large share in the GDP and must be supported.”
Speaking on the occasion, PTI leader Humayun Akhtar Khan said, “We have pursued stability for decades but with no success. We should now think in terms of growth and exports. It is no surprise that economic reforms move one step forward and two steps backwards.”
Khan stated that the budget was important only if it was part of a larger growth strategy, adding that “fifty years of ‘focus on stability and austerity’ has left us with no strategy for growth”.
Pakistan Business Council CEO Ehsan Malik said that Covid-19 was an opportunity to revisit economic policymaking and to develop a national economic plan with broad consensus. The government must prioritise the welfare of the common man with basic supplies and services, he added.
Meanwhile, former commerce minister Dr Zubair Khan said that the economy was crumbling even before the pandemic. “Fiscal deficit was high, interest rates were exorbitant with no economic logic, macroeconomic issues largely stayed unattended and there was no fiscal adjustment.”
Eminent expert and LUMS professor Dr Bari said that reforms were needed at the microeconomic level, whereas the country’s policy space focuses only on macro indicators. “We must rethink the government’s role so that they better provide education and health services to the people.”
Bari further said it was not so much a lack of funds, it was more a matter of priorities, as “we prefer road projects over schools and hospitals”.