ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday announced a monthly relief package of Rs28 billion ($140 million) for 14 million families to protect them from the impact of recently hiked petroleum prices.
Sharif made the announcement in a late-night televised address to the nation — his first since he became PM last month — a day after his government rolled back fuel subsidies and made a record Rs30 ($0.15) hike in petroleum prices to unlock around $1 billion in loan funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Pakistan has been struggling with a worsening balance-of-payment crisis in the face of declining foreign exchange reserves, with inflation expected to reach 14.3 percent in May and the recent fuel price hike likely to impact economic indicators in the month of June.
Sharif said the difficult decision of increasing petroleum prices was taken in line with an agreement reached by the previous government of PM Imran Khan with the International Monetary Fund.
“The previous government had given subsidy on petroleum products for political gains despite the fact that it was not financially feasible,” he said. “But we sacrificed our political interest over national interest as the decision [to hike fuel prices] was inevitable to save the country from default.”
“When we took over, every department was on the verge of destruction,” Sharif added, saying the relief package would provide Rs2,000 per month to poor families already registered with the government under existing poverty reduction schemes.
Sharif said those families could buy 10 kilogram of flour for Rs400 from government-run utility stores, adding that the relief package would be incorporated in the upcoming budget.
Speaking on foreign policy, Sharif reiterated Pakistan’s stance on talks with India, saying the onus of sustainable development in South Asia was on New Delhi.
“It is the responsibility of India to roll back unilateral and illegal steps taken on Aug 5, 2019 to move toward resolution of all disputes including Jammu and Kashmir through meaningful dialogue,” he said, referring on India stripping Kashmir of its autonomous status.
Concluding his speech, the PM proposed a “charter of economy“:
“I am starting a consultative process with all political parties for a consensus over this charter so that no government or ruler could play havoc with the national economy for personal gains,” Sharif said.