Political stability vital to achieve economic stability: PM

ISLAMABAD, (APP): Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani while reiterating the government’s commitment to strengthen democracy in the country said Thursday political stability was vital to achieve economic stability.“For economic stability, we need political stability”, Gilani told the participants of a Conference, ‘Pakistan at Risk:Stabilization Challenges after the Flood’, organized by Jinnah Institute of Pakistan here at a local hotel on Thursday. The Prime Minister assured that with all the institutions in the country including judiciary, parliament and executive working within the ambit of constitution, as well as a vibrant civil society and active media, “We are committed to stabilize and strengthen democracy, for which we have fought”.
Gilani also assured the participants of the conference, which was attended among others by economic experts and senior officials from home and abroad, that the government despite the challenge of floods was resolved to fight the menace of terrorism and extremism. He said improving the law and order situation and economic stabilization were two major priorities of the government, which will go together, adding, “with one suicidal attack, there is flight of capital and the flow of investment is hampered.”

“We will not make any excuses and will continue to fight terrorism and follow the path of economic reforms”, he added.

Similarly, the Prime Minister said, the government would create more resources and fiscal space to cope with the challenge floods by broadening the tax-base, as it was being said that “Pakistan should also contribute from its own pocket.”

That is why Pakistan was seeking increased market access for its products in the international market with the view that “we want trade and not aid,” he added. The Prime Minister said the government was also reprioritizing its budgetary allocations and expenditures to save money, adding, it is in this spirit that he had earlier called of his visit to UN and now he has called off his scheduled visit to France and Belgium.

Gilani said he was supportive of the local government system, as he himself came to the existing position after participating and having positions in local government. The Prime Minister pointed out that after the approval of 18th Constitutional Amendment, the subject of local bodies has come under the purview of provinces. He, however, added that he has directed the provincial governments to hold local bodies elections as soon as possible. About transparent utilization of funds for the relief and rehabilitation of flood affected people, the Prime Minister said, there was no complaint from any side when government successfully handled the 2.5 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) of Swat and Malakand, who were sent back to their homes in record 90 days and were also given the cash assistance through smart cards.

He said there existed a transparent auditing and accountability mechanism in the country, with Opposition leader having the slot of Chairman Public Accounts Committee. The Prime Minister further mentioned that all important national decisions are taken up for consensus at the forum of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), which has the representation from the federation and all provinces including the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of four provinces, Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, AJK Prime Minister and others. Gilani said besides the establishment of National Oversight Disaster Management Council, Diamer-Bhasha Dam project was also approved by CCI with consensus, and other national issues including the proposed Kalabagh Dam project can also be taken up at the CCI to achieve consensus.

The Prime Minister said he was looking forward to the upcoming Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) Ministerial Meeting to be held in Brussels next month and the Pakistan Development Forum (PDF) to be held in Pakistan later this year, for the assistance of country in coping with the challenge of floods. Gilani said, the report of the damage need assessment being done with the support of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, will be available soon and to be shared with the international community, donors and friendly countries at the bilateral level.

Prime Minister Gilani said the Government of Pakistan and he himself were working round the clock to coordinate an effective and rapid response for the 20 million affected by the great flood. “We are under no illusion about the staggering nature of the  challenges that lie ahead in order to rebuild the country from Khyber to Karachi, but we are also in a race against time to re-build the lives of millions of our people destroyed by this great flood. “It is they who mean Pakistan to us, not just its roads and bridges, and it is these people whose livelihoods and homes we have to restore”, he added.

The Prime Minister said the magnitude of the crisis, as mentioned in the conference, is such that the government will need the support and assistance of all organizations and nations in the long road ahead to rehabilitation and reconstruction. “It is not a task any government can execute alone, and we are grateful to the UN and the international community, as well as all the local stakeholders who have coordinated with us to step up relief endeavours in the field”, he added.

Gilani termed the flood crisis bigger than many of the natural disasters the world has seen in the last so many years, and said it is worth noting that “even today, the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which was much smaller than this flood, are still being addressed by the US government”.

He said unlike other disasters the world has responded to with speed and sympathy, this one has multiple dimensions that arise from the unprecedented scale of the crisis. The Prime Minister said that Pakistan had barely finished re-settling thousands of refugees that were rendered homeless due to the ongoing war against militancy and terrorism, adding, “even during the flood, we saw over 137 people killed in one week as a result of terrorism”.

“We know what horrors we battle each day on the ground. We know that since the end of July, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, AJK and Gilgit Baltistan, over 20 million have watched their entire lives, their homes, their crops, their cattle, their assets washed away, in 82 districts.” “Just from the flood, 1802 people have lost their lives and 2994 have been gravely injured. The statistics of this disaster are still coming in, but even today I can tell you that over 3.4 million children under the age of 5 and 4.4 million women of child bearing-age are listed as affectees”, Gilani said and added “This means that they are in acute distress and it is our responsibility to pull them out of this distress”.
Prime Minister Gilani said in managing this trauma, the government has been assisted by thousands of volunteers and a vigilant UN cluster.

“But even so, we have to respond on multiple fronts. With over a 110 health facilities completely destroyed and 342 damaged, we have to plan overnight for the tidal wave of disease that could overtake our homeless and our undernourished people”, he added. The Prime Minister mentioned that the Health Coordination Hubs have been set up in five cities, and a Disease Early Warning System is serviced by a total of 479 fixed health centers and 544 mobile outreach camps in the affected areas.

In addition 33,222 Lady Health Workers are engaged in flood relief activities in 57 districts of the country, he added.
“The challenge of ensuring that we don’t lose an entire generation to ignorance and poverty is compounded by the loss of almost 11,000 public schools. We will have to pro-actively ensure that our budget priorities don’t take money away from these vital social sectors, and that we enhance our capacity to use the resources effectively”, he added.

Prime Minister Gilani said, “tending to these human tragedies is enough of a test for any country. Yet, initial estimates reveal that 1.91 million houses have been damaged and that a crop area of 1.38 million acres has been washed away”.
He said the ILO has assessed that 5.3 million jobs have been wiped out, adding, the damage to these livelihoods, at the bottom of the economic pyramid could result in extreme food insecurity. To save large parts of the agricultural sector from complete devastation the Government is considering free supply of seed and fertilizer to farmers with a landholding of 25 acres or less, he added. The Prime Minister said, “these are real and present dangers we have to budget for. Yet the flood has destroyed over 1000 bridges and 4000 KMs of road”, adding, “the energy sector is equally impacted, with WAPDA and PEPCO losses exceeding 13 billion rupees”.

He said, the federal roads worth Rs. 6 billion and Railway losses worth Rs. 2.9 billion are being reported. The Prime Minister said, the damages to livelihoods will cause incalculable loss, adding, “I am sure you have all discussed the capital losses and come up with serious recommendations on managing inflation, compensating for lost exports and our growing debt burden”. Prime Minister Gilani said, “confronted with such grave challenges, we have responded as swiftly as possible, and mobilized every resource at our disposal”, adding, however, “It will take Pakistan many years to recoup these losses, but we are firm on our resolve to lead from the front”.

He said the government has already disbursed Emergency Relief Assistance worth Rs. 2102 million. The Benazir Income Support Programme, Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal, and other agencies have also been providing relief and assistance to affectees round the clock, he added. The Prime Minister said, “in response to this tragedy, as just initial relief, we have already started distributing the first installment of Rs. 20,000 to every family through NADRA’s Watan Cards. This assistance net, which will cover emergency sustenance to around 2 million families, will be completed within 40-45 days”.“An amount of Rs. 40 billion is earmarked for this purpose out of which 50% will be contributed by the Federal Government. The BISP is also planning to pay Rs. 12,000 per beneficiary in addition to the above”, he added.

The Prime Minister referred to the fears expressed about the economic situation and said, “shortfalls are to be expected, but apart from tightening our belt, we will have to reprioritize the budget, freeze expenditure to last year’s level, cut non-development expenditures, widen the tax base and impose strict austerity in government departments”. The Prime Minister said he also realized that natural disasters have been wreaking havoc too often in Pakistan, including climate change in the Himalayan belt.

“Therefore, it is for us to focus more resources on rapid response mechanisms as well as a policy mandate for NDMA to operate as an anchor for all relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts”, he added.

The Prime Minister appreciated the NDMA’s outreach and initiative in reaching people, engaging the international community, the UN agencies and relief organizations. “I also thank the numerous civil society organizations, youth groups and spontaneous volunteers who came forward in Pakistan’s time of crisis to lend a helping hand”, he added.

The Prime Minister said the international community has pledged $ 1.4 billion so far, with the UN appealing for 2 billion dollars. Significant amongst the donors are the US, China, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Turkey, Iran, Germany, UAE, EU, Australia, Canada, India, Norway and Sweden, he added.

Prime Minister Gilani said besides the various UN Agencies, the World Bank, OIC, IRC and Asian Development Bank are providing exemplary services, in both cash and kind. “The IMF has agreed to provide US $ 450 million as budgetary support to the Government. The World Bank has agreed to fast track its share of US $ 1 billion on already committed projects”, he added. Similarly, the Prime Minister said, the Asian Development Bank has also agreed to fast track its share of US $ 2 billion loan.

“With this amount of aid coming in, and far more expected, we have set up independent oversight mechanisms to cascade down from the federal and provincial levels where aid is being utilized. “The National Oversight Disaster Management Council shall monitor funds on standard policy guidelines developed by NDMA and other stakeholders. If there are any misgivings about the governance of disaster, I urge all and anyone to assist us developing better oversight mechanisms”, he added.

The Prime Minister assured that as a democratic government, “we are committed to constructive engagement with the policy community, and we expect our friends to assist us in building back better”.

“I am hopeful that organizations like the Jinnah Institute will remain vigilant in identifying gaps in our planning and outreach, and also assisting us in forming policies that are responsive and inclusive”, he added.

The Prime Minister further said, “it should not take a crisis like this to bring us together as a nation. Quaid e Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had a dream to unite us as a progressive state. It is now our task to fulfil this vision and to build on the sacrifices of our great leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto”. He said, “in the face of so much adversity, one really has two choices. Either we let events overtake us, or we use the challenge to unite and create opportunities”.

“Pakistan needs that moment of opportunity, and I intend to use this crisis, this tragedy to rebuild a better Pakistan, to re-build hope and integrity when people are looking to us for leadership. Pakistan may be facing its worst crisis today, but I assure you we will not fail Pakistan”, he maintained.

Later during the Question-Answer session of the conference, the Prime Minister said the huge challenge before the government was to rehabilitate and settle the over 20 million flood affected people.

“This is not a simple challenge. We have to make a national strategy. My first priority is to settle the 20 million people”, he said and added the process of distribution of Rs. 20,000 to each affected family, as first installment has already started, while another amount of Rs. 80,000 to each family would be given through a systematic and organized manner.
The Prime Minister appealed the philanthropists, civil society, NGOs and others working for the relief of flood affected people to gel their efforts in the national strategy, adding, “the affected people need tents for shelter before the winter season starts”.

To another question, the Prime Minister said, he has been visiting various flood affected areas including Swat and Kalam since the start of catastrophe, adding, the relief work in hilly areas, which was carried out by helicopters, was hampered due bad weather conditions. He, however, directed the Chairman NDMA to ensure the relief supplies in Kalam and Bahrain. In response to another question, the Prime Minister said an amount of Rs. 4.5 billion has so far been collected in the PM’s Relief Fund, adding, if any other people or organizations were raising funds they are welcome as it would benefit the affected people.

About credibility issue, the Prime Minister said out of $ 1.4 billion pledged by the international community so far, only $ 17 million have come through the government system and the rest was coming through international organizations.
To a question, the Prime Minister said, the huge amount of Rs.  350 billion to be distributed in the flood affected areas for repair of damaged houses will bring in an economic boom and help revive economy through construction and the activation of allied industries.Prime Minister Gilani on this occasion also announced Rs. 50 million for the Jinnah Institute of Pakistan.

Besides the President of Jinnah Institute Sherry Rehman, the conference was also addressed by Ambassador Robin Raphel, Coordinator for Economic and Development Assistance to Pakistan, on International Community’s Commitment to Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, Chairman NDMA, Lt. Gen. ® Nadeem Ahmed and distinguished economists and intellectuals including Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Dr. Akmal Hussain, Dr. Riffat Hussain, Manuel Bessler, Shandana Khan and Naeem Mirza.  – App