Sindh’s budget for the financial year 2020-21 will focus on the impacts of COVID-19; therefore, a new strategy has been devised to prioritise health services, innovations in the education sector, employment generation and social security.
Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah presided over a meeting on Saturday to set the strategy for the next budget. He said the novel coronavirus emergency indicators — such as increase in expenditures, decrease in government revenues, decline in exports, unemployment and loss of purchasing power — were horrible and needed to be addressed.
He told his finance and planning & development (P&D) teams that the first and foremost priority will be given to strengthen our health system, under which COVID-19 emergency hospitals will be established.
“We’re already establishing a coronavirus emergency centre at NIPA, and similar facilities will be set up in all the divisional headquarters,” he said. All the other hospitals will also be equipped with the necessary equipment, he added.
Talking about employment generation, the chief executive said small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus crisis. Therefore, he added, SMEs are in need of small loans, subsidies and other such concessions for their sustainability.
He said that besides other concessions and subsidies, soft loans will be provided to SMEs. The limit of short-term loans will be Rs500,000 for small businesses and Rs2 million for medium enterprises, he added.
He also said investment will be made in the agriculture sector for advancing soft loans to purchase export quality seeds, DAP (diammonium phosphate) and urea so that export quality rice, pulses and other crops can be cultivated.
He directed the agriculture minister to guide growers, particularly the small farmers, to switch to seasonal crops, new cash crops and export-oriented crops so that they can revive their growing activity on their own and contribute to the national economy.
Shah said loans will also be advanced for livestock and poultry. “This is the best business if cattle are reared on scientific and healthy grounds. Their demand in the international market is always on the rise.”
He announced on the occasion that the livestock & fisheries department will be activated to help the people engaged in the livestock and fisheries sectors.
The CM said that in the next budget, he wants to start a poverty alleviation programme under which interest-free loans will be provided to individuals to start their businesses, for which the government or its partners will offer technical assistance.
He said these loans will be given to those who want to switch over from one small business to another or start a new one. Women will be accorded priority, he added.
Shah said that despite limited resources and the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to focus on the education of our children. New trends of teaching will be introduced so that educational activities keep thriving even during the health emergency, he added.
“I have tasked the education minister with devising a detailed education plan both for online education and classroom studies so that it can be implemented through the next budget.”
The CM said the development budget may be curtailed to increase finances for health services as well as the revival of the economy by advancing loans to traders, growers and the livestock and fisheries sectors.
However, he added, the health department’s projects, education, the road sector and water supply & sanitation will be prioritised. He also said all the mega development projects will be started with public-private partnership. “This will help minimise financial pressure on the government and help create employment opportunities.”
Shah said he has approached the World Bank and other donor agencies to help the Sindh government continue development works and the social protection programme while fighting COVID-19.
Issuing guidelines to his team, the CM said his government wants to start a social protection strategy for individuals and families who are highly vulnerable to food insecurity through targeted income or food support, particularly in low-income, high-density communities with high-risk contagious diseases.
Shah directed P&D Chairman Mohammad Waseem to prepare projects for the establishment of six shelter homes in divisional headquarters and two lost & found children centres in Karachi.
He said these centres will help support the homeless as well as children. “This is the time to work as a welfare government, and Inshallah we’ll not abandon our people at this critical time.”
The meeting was also attended by Chief Secretary Mumtaz Ali Shah, CM’s Coordinator Haris Gazdar, Waseem’s team, Finance Secretary Hassan Naqvi and his team, and others.