ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an online session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Wednesday, called upon the developed countries to provide debt relief to poorer nations that were struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic — a crisis that has left their economies battered.
“The experience of the developed world is completely different to what we are facing in the developing world. Countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh — specifically the Indian subcontinent — our experience is somewhat different.
“The speed at which COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus] spread in Europe and the United States, we’re not experiencing the same sort of speed. “On the other hand, we are still facing rising number of cases and we still haven’t reached our peak here” in Pakistan, he added. “From day one, the difference between, say, what we’ve seen in Europe and the United States — and, in fact, even in China — is that we had to face this twin challenge: one was to stop [and] stem the growth of the virus, hence, the lockdown. “But the bigger challenge and increasingly in our country is how to mitigate the effects of lockdown on our population with the rising poverty. “We, in Pakistan, we have 25 million workers who are either daily wagers or get paid weekly or are self-employed. When we [impose a] lockdown like the whole of the world to stop the spread of the virus all these people became unemployed. “When we are talking about 25 million workers, we are talking about 25 million families. And actually it has affected around almost 120-150 million people [who] face stark poverty. “Unless the men and the women work, they cannot feed their families. What my government did was we launched a cash programme and reached nearly 15 million families with cash transfers but this is only a short-term solution.” “Therefore, despite the raising cases in our country, we have decided to ease our lockdown and reopen our construction industry so that people can find employment because there is no way that the government can provide for all. The only way we can do that is by providing employment.
“The way forward that we have this year as a nation is that we realise that we have to live with this virus at least until a vaccine comes out and balances it. We have raised a volunteer force in this regard — of one million volunteers — who will help the administration as it is already overburdened and so are the law enforcement agencies.
“This volunteer force will encourage people not to have large gatherings and spread awareness among masses to follow the SOPs [standard operating procedures] necessary to stem the virus.
“Just before this pandemic hit us, we had managed to balance our twin budgets — the current account and fiscal deficit. After very tough reforms, we had thought of the growth of the economy.
“The coming year is not just a challenge for Pakistan but for the world. There has to be more interaction between the countries in dealing with this challenge so far.
“When it hit the countries, they took unprecedented measures so every country looked inside and became insular. I feel that we are connected and the response has to be global.
“There has to be a way of picking up countries specially in the developing world. I have spoken to the Ethiopian prime minister, the Egyptian president, [and] the Nigerian prime minister [and] all of them are facing similar problems as us. “Their exports are falling but also, additionally, we face the problem of falling remittances. Our country depends a lot on the remittance from the Gulf countries and due to the fall in oil prices that has had an effect on it. “We have geared up and our economic think-tanks are mulling over how we are going to deal with the coming year. Speaking of a global debt programme, PM Imran said: “The G20 has come up with a debt relief plan but it needs more details and work. Let me just put it this way: many of the developing countries face this situation where, because of their debt-servicing, their fiscal space has contracted and they are unable to cope with this challenge of health facilities. “The reason why there should be a debt relief and the G20 is looking into it is because we need to divert those resources to health and also to environment and, unfortunately, that space is not there,” he added.