Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said on Saturday that the government’s relief package, which was announced by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif a day earlier, would help protect the poor people from the “storm of inflation” left by the previous PTI government and the recent hike in fuel prices.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he shared the criteria for availing the ‘Sasta Petrol, Sasta Diesel’ relief package.
Women, whose household income was less than Rs40,000 per month, could text their CNIC (computerised national identity card) numbers on 786 or call that number to receive Rs2,000, he said.
“We cannot provide complete relief as we do not have the resources but we will do all we can to dress the wounds [of poor people].”
The relief amount would also be incorporated in the upcoming budget which would be presented in the National Assembly next month, Ismail added.
The minister said the government would also augment the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).
He clarified that the relief package was not limited to motorcycle owners but included anyone whose monthly household income was below Rs40,000. People who were already BISP beneficiaries did not need to send their details on 786 since they would automatically receive the amount, he added.
Sharing further details, Ismail said that under the relief package, 14 million households would receive the amount. “Rs2,000 will be given in June and it will cost the government Rs28 billion. Besides 3.3m BISP beneficiaries, this [package] covers 6.7m households with poverty scores below 37.
“This money will be given to the poorest families,” he said. “We have the data and phone numbers of BISP recipients, we will start giving them the money from June 1.”
However, the money would only be given to the women of the household, he said.
He added that the money given through the relief package amounted to five per cent of the income of a household earning less than Rs40,000 monthly and 8pc of the income of a household earning Rs31,333 or less monthly.
The previous PTI government was giving subsidies to the rich while the incumbent government was targeting the poor, Ismail said.
He said that according to the PTI government’s deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), all subsidies were to be removed, the tax levy increased to Rs30 and a sales tax imposed, which would raise the price of diesel to Rs300 per litre and petrol to Rs276 per litre.
“We are not going by this formula,” he insisted.
In response to a question, Ismail said he did not know whether fuel prices would be increased again starting June 1. “I don’t think it will be appropriate to raise the prices again in a few days since we have already increased them on the 26th but I am not sure.”
He also said he had not received a summary to increase power tariffs.
Responding to another question, the minister said there had no discussion on privatisation in the recent talks with IMF.
“We are expecting a staff-level agreement with the IMF in June. Agreement is the real thing, after which money can be deposited at any time.
“IMF will give $3bn. We have requested them to extend the programme by a year and expand it by $2bn. I expect that they will agree.” Once the agreement with the IMF was finalised, it would pave the way for receiving loans from other multilateral organisations, he added.
The country would have defaulted because of the reduction of petroleum prices by the previous government, he said, sharing that the subsidies were costing thrice the amount required for running of the entire civil government.
Ismail said Saudi Arabia was “willing to help us more” but he would share the details in July.
“We have lost political capital [because of the price hike] but the prime minister and [Defence Minister] Khawaja Asif explicitly said that if we have to choose between political capital and the state, we will choose to save the state.”
Ismail had announced on Thursday that the federal government had decided to raise the prices of petroleum products by Rs30 per litre.
After the hike, the price of petrol is Rs179.86, diesel Rs174.15, kerosene oil Rs155.56 and light diesel Rs148.31 per litre.
The price hike came a day after the government and the IMF failed to reach an agreement on an economic bailout mainly because of the former’s indecision on fuel and electricity subsidies and resultant next year’s budget uncertainties.
A day earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz, in his first address since taking office, said the government was taking tough decisions in view of national interest, and accused the previous government of putting Pakistan’s economic and diplomatic standing on the line, simply to further their personal, political interests.
Saying that global oil prices were through the roof and that the fuel crisis was affecting everyone — from oil producing countries to the developed nations of the West, he claimed the previous government had announced a fuel and power subsidy for the sake of its own survival, the burden of which the national exchequer could not take.
“We took the decision because it was inevitable to avoid default,” he said, adding that it was an important move in the bid to lift the country out of the economic crisis it currently faced.