Presiding over the second meeting of the "Prime
Minister Task Force on Poverty Alleviation and Employment
Generation", in Islamabad last week, Minister for Privatization,
Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, who is also the chairman of the task force,
emphasized that the recommendations of the task force should be
practical suggesting both short term and long term measures to combat
this social evil.
Addressing the members which included high profile
representatives both from public and private sectors and eminent
economists, Dr. Sheikh said that poverty ratio needed to be curtailed
urgently and in his opinion it could be done through implementation of
government progressive economic and investment policies for creation of
more job opportunities. Poverty and unemployment were interlocked and
poverty level could not be curtailed without creating more jobs.
"We have to focus on labour intensive development projects in the
public sector", he added.
The second meeting of the task force reviewed poverty
and unemployment status and assessed the impact of the ongoing public
sector development program in the context of curtailing unemployment.
The task force also reviewed presentations from DFID, National Database
and Registration Authority (NADRA), Chief Economist Planning Commission
Dr. Pervez Tahir, Dr. Mushtaq and the three sub-committees. The next
meeting was fixed for early January next year.
The task force and its members from public sector Dr.
Nasim Ashraf, Chairman, NCHD, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Governor State Bank of
Pakistan, Javed Sadiq Malik, Secretary Planning and Development, Waqar
Masood Khan, Secretary Economic Affairs Division, Dr. Ashfaq Hasan Khan,
Economic Advisor, Finance Division, Dr. A. Ra Kemal, Director PIDE, Dr.
Nuzhat Ahmad, Director Applied Economic Research Centre, Chairman
Planning and Development, Government of Punjab/Additional Chief
Secretaries, Government of Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan and Shaukat Hayat
Durrani, Additional Secretary (EA), Prime Minister's Secretariat and
seven members from the private sector; Farid Rehman, Peshawar, Dr. Akmal
Hussain, Lahore, Dr. Salman Shah Lahore, Shahid Kardar Lahore, Dr.
Mushtaq Mirani, Hyderabad, Ms. Saadiqa Salahuddin Karachi and Malik
Naeem Khan from Quetta attended the meeting.
It is a source of great embarrassment for the
Economic Managers of the country that despite strong improvement in
macro economic indicators, the people remain as deprived as ever. Their
miseries have multiplied during this period of economic turnaround of
which the government is so boastful. The unemployment which remained
below 5 percent mark in 1980s' is highest ever now at above 8 percent
pushing more and more people into the net of grinding poverty. Poverty
level has risen from 15 percent to 38 percent in the last 15 years. It
is commonly believed that the government either lacks the commitment or
the planner have no capacity to do something meaningful to mitigate
poverty in the near future.
The Governor State Bank in his analysis of the causes
of increase in poverty level in Pakistan, at a function of Agha Khan
Rural Support Program a few weeks back, referred to period of 1990s when
the economic growth rate had fallen and consequently the poverty level
had risen from 18 percent in 1980 to 33 percent in 1990. The lesson from
this situation underscores the need for maintaining a higher growth rate
at not less than 6 percent annually and sustained for some years which
could increase employment opportunities and combat poverty. We need to
continue prudent economic policies and with special emphasis on higher
growth with enhanced allocation for public sector development program
giving top priority to labour intensive projects.
The situation regarding unemployment and resultant
poverty is more alarming in rural areas. The present government has done
well to undertake construction of a number of small dams and water
reservoirs mostly in rural areas, which will provide temporary
employment to a large number of labour-class. Similarly roads should be
constructed in rural areas — specially from farm to market, which will
doubly benefit the rural population providing employment to unskilled
workers and improving returns to the farmers of their product.
In order to address the problem of rural poverty, the
government should ensure that the farmers get at least the minimum
procurement price for their produce. With wheat prices raised to Rs. 350
per 40 kg and cotton also fetching a good price this year, rural incomes
will be substantially improved. The higher industrial output in the last
year should help in combating poverty in the urban areas. The
encouragement to small and medium enterprises is also intended for the
purpose of the creation of self-employment. But as these measures may
not be enough, the targeted approach to reduce poverty is all the more
necessary in the immediate perspective. Though it may take time to fully
come to grips with them, but the benefits of economic recovery should be
filtering down to the grass roots level.
As for investment in human resources, the allocation
for education sector is still very low at just about two percent of the
gross domestic product and it will need to be substantially increased.
Private investment is required to be further accelerated, as that is the
proven route to job creation. The role of NGOs in employment generation
and poverty reduction should be expanded and regularly monitored. The
increase in unemployment and poverty, especially in the decade of the
nineties, has been and continues to be a source of concern. The setting
up of the task force indicates the gravity of the problems underscoring
the need of urgent action.