The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) held a special session on Monday to expedite the Prime Minister’s Rs1.2 trillion relief package to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

With the largest chunk of this package reserved for wheat procurement – Rs 288 billion have been earmarked for this – the government has doubled its normal procurement requirements in order to ease the burden on both wheat farmers and exporters. An added benefit of this might be greater consistency in the supply chain; if the government manages to meet the self-imposed purchasing benchmark, it will be able to use 8.2 tonnes of wheat to plug any gaps in supply as and when needed.

But the most fundamental feature, and one that is seen through many of the relief measures offered by the government in this package, is the assistance offered to unprivileged sections of society. Rs144 billion will go directly to increasing the stipend for vulnerable families for the next four months; this, while short of making ends meet for these families, will still be an important means of sustenance for daily wage labourers and those that depend on them to survive.

Other measures include a release of funds for the National Disaster Management Authority, refunds for exporters and manufacturers and money set aside to use for the deferment of loan instalments for the agriculture and the SME sectors. These are all positive moves that will assist various sectors of both the economy and society to get by in the months to come.

With the extra expenditure adjusted for within the budget, it is now the government’s responsibility to ensure that the maximum amount out of these funds is utilised, otherwise, the public will not be able to avail the benefits on offer. The discrepancies between the amounts allocated in the budget versus those that end up getting disbursed is a problem that has cost us over the years, in terms of developing our capacities. Given that the pandemic requires extraordinary measures it is hoped that this promising initiative of the government will be carried through all the way.