COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted the entire global economy, which already with the start of the current century and particularly since financial crisis of 2008 had remained unsustainable thus adversely impacting both economically developed and under developed countries socially and environmentally. The lopsided growth of economies particularly in case of economically rich countries, has brought the world at a catastrophic environmental change.
Before the onset of Covid-19 developing economies particularly emerging economies group could lift billions of people out of poverty, but these countries also could not arrest rising inequalities and social unrest. Pakistan in particular being a middle income developing country before advent of pandemic could lower the number of impoverished population substantially almost by 40% lifting 23 million people out of poverty. The recent IMF study in context of pandemic forecasts more than 40% increase of poverty in Pakistan. GDP growth rate is also likely to be below 1% during the current fiscal year hence country would continue to face full of conflict environment economically, socially and politically. Lack of good governance at all tiers of establishment, public sector organizations and to some extent private sectors entities has always been the impeding factor for achieving desired/projected socio economic development goals. This in turn is the outcome of conflicting policies/strategies devised both at government and individual organizational level having least comprehension of socio-economic problems of the country. This has given rise to adhocism and uncertainty and a conflicting attitude on the part of human resources responsible for running these organizations and in the process transmitting the culture of conflict to the entire nation.
The situation has further aggravated after onslaught of pandemic, which brought dramatic societal disruption and economic collapse in line with rest of the world. As such there happened an abrupt shift in economic and social life of the country and burden of the ensuing crisis got enhanced on shoulders of both federal and provincial governments. Frequent lockdowns and restrictions have brought financial hardship to those workers who have to be physically present on job to do the things manually. Jobs like hospitality, tourism, delivery services, retail and basic care services have laid down millions of workers. While those associated with white collar jobs mostly got opportunity to work on line as such already being well rewarded, in fact gained from prevailing pandemic catastrophe, saving traveling time and cost of transport, lunch and tea expenses in office and of course sizable expenses on entertainment of all kinds temporarily suspended due to Covid, but availing free of additional cost on line through courtesy of YouTube etc. For their children education in all educational institutions is available online and is affordable particularly for this segment of population.
Women and young people in particular have been worst affected as they are over represented in many of informal and irregular category of jobs. Informal sector comprising of irregular or on call labors particularly in non conventional form of employment are in a very pathetic position all over the globe.
As an immediate remedial measure for rescue of the suffering low and lower middle classes federal government has announced financial allocation of Rs 1.2 trillion particularly for cash transfer through Ehsaas program providing Rs 12000/- per household to 12 million household all over the country. Besides that a cash grant of Rs 158 billion has been allocated to lessen the hardship of 3 million daily wagers in the formal sector. This financial help remains inaccessible to daily wagers in informal sectors and those deployed in non farming jobs/businesses in rural sector. According to latest statistics available in press only Rs 200 billion has been released so far.
Small business owners who suffered due to lockdown imposed from time to time and also those thrown out of work by organizations foreseeing heavy losses in business have so far not been benefitted through cash transfer program except soft loan program for small businesses and unemployed youth. Remaining 90 percent of the allocation of Rs 1.2 trillion has been earmarked for assisting medium and large size industries incurring losses heavily due to total standstill of trading for a longer period of last fiscal year.
In this pandemic situation it is the earnest wish of entire nation to return to pre-pandemic era. It is too early to expect that clouds of uncertainty, frustration and dejection engulfing the entire nation particularly working population are lifted. Pakistan is lucky in the sense that pandemic has battered comparatively lesser part of the population financially and also health wise if we compare it to our surrounding nations particularly India. No doubt massive job losses particularly in informal sector and resultant increase in poverty and above all interruption to education right from primary to university level pauses a great challenge for both government and civil society. But despite all constraints and limitations country need to look ahead to a future where people from all shades of life do the things differently. Thanks to information technology, which has made possible use of virtual technology in all sectors of economy and has also covered education and health care also.
In this regard public and private sector must focus on poor and lower middle class whose mode of work will gradually be transformed due to advent of remote mode of work and use of virtual technology in all fields. Skill development programs in all jobs relating to information technology, digitalization should be offered to all workers from this segment of population free of cost. It is a fact that working from home and acquiring education online is going to be the regular way of life all over the globe. Survey conducted at World Economic Forum revealed that 84 percent of employers both in developed and emerging economies are set to digitalize work process and are confident of the fact that their organizations will be in position to make 44 percent of their employees work from home.
Apart from promoting use of internet there is urgent need to make financial services accessible to all disadvantaged segments of society. Presently, Pakistan’s unbanked population exceeds 100 million adults. In other words only 23 percent of adult populations have access to conventional and mobile banking. In this regard serious efforts are needed on the part of State Bank of Pakistan to promote financial literacy in the country. Regarding use of internet also, Pakistan is lagging behind all South Asian countries. Pakistan has been ranked 76th out of 100 countries on the Inclusive Internet Index 2020 released by Economists Intelligence Unit (EIU). Inclusive Internet Index indicates availability, affordability and readiness to use internet.
Funds deficiency at the end of government to implement above suggested measures income tax system must be reformed. All loopholes must be removed from the system making it efficient enough to arrest galloping fiscal deficit.
Government must undertake labor intensive projects to absorb both skilled and unskilled unemployed labor. At the same time incentives should be provided to private sector to invest in such ventures as has recently been done for promoting construction industry. All soft loans schemes already launched by government for unemployed youth must be accompanied by skill development training programs in areas where borrower is investing borrowed funds. Similarly proper monitoring should be done by financing bank to ensure that borrowed funds have been utilized properly.
All social safety nets must continue to lessen the hardship of less privileged people and to reduce poverty and inequality of incomes. It is strange phenomenon that despite government efforts to provide soft loans and cash transfer benefits welfare of have-nots improved a bit, but already well of strata’s of society gained a lot through hoarding and black marketing the food and other essential items. This has created a total dissatisfaction among disadvantaged segments of population. This conflicting culture emanates from economic and political and sometimes even from social reformers who behave in an undemocratic and autocratic manner, thus creating an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and insecurity. For creating congenial environment the nation as whole must move forward with solidarity and total transparency at all levels.