Inclusive strategies needed to reach out to daily wagers, freelancers

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Parliamentarians and civil society reps urge the government to adopt available mechanisms

Islamabad – Parliamentarians and civil society representatives while participating in a virtual conference urged the government to urgently develop an integrated mechanism engaging different stakeholders and active civil society organizations to reach out to variety of daily workers and freelancers. Daily bread-earners are not only poor and marginalized communities and laborers, but they include teachers and other semi-skilled and skilled persons too. They are suffering from the crisis but being neglected due to inefficient approach adopted by the federal and provincial governments. Easing lockdown at the moment when the infection is spiking up, the miseries would multiply.

Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) organized the virtual conference on Saturday on the topic ‘Covid-19: Reaching out to daily wagers and freelancers – Challenges and Strategies’. The distinguished panel included Senator Lt General (Retd) Abdul Qayyum, Senator Musadik Malik, Senator Sitara Ayaz and Zafarullah Khan, social scientist and former director general of the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS). Others who participated in the virtual conference included Dr Amena Hassan, TS Bhutta, Tahir Hanfi, Yousaf Ali, Shaaref Munir and Riffat Ara Baig. Host of the virtual conference and Devcom-Pakistan Director Munir Ahmed introduced the topic.

Senator Musadik Malik said: first two weeks of lockdown were very effective but afterwards government could not maintain it. It has proven to be fetal as we have seen spike in the curve of infected population. Total confusion and chaos was observed in handling the crisis, and the government despite having all the resources could not manage it as required. First two weeks of lockdown showed that government could have done it for four to six weeks to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections. Secondly, due to inefficient approach and having no adequate system, federal government could only reach out to fraction of poor communities while the daily wagers and freelancers remained untouched. While having its own funds, and grants from different international sources and philanthropists, federal government could have reached to all estimated 50-60 million people if the right mechanisms were adopted.

He said they would have taken three steps if they would have been in the government with the resources available to the present government; first of all strict and uncompromising lockdown from 6-8 weeks would have been the priority; secondly, random and cluster testing at all the UCs. The infected were quantified in adequate environment, and financial support would be extended to their families then and there. Secondly, reaching out to 50-60 million vulnerable poor communities, daily wagers and freelancers at their doorsteps with the support of district management, charity workers, members of the Union Councils (UCs) and local schools and teachers; and waving off the utility bills of poor upto middle class. Saving people had been our priority than worrying about the economy.

Senator Lt General (Retd) Abdul Qayyum was the view that neither federal government could impose strict lockdown nor successfully implemented its own SOPs except locking its horns with the provinces. Sindh has been on its own policy that was partially failure because of the federal government’s confusing statements. Now Punjab province has its way of handling the crisis and asking the federal government that seven largest cities of the province should be exempted from the easing policy. Lahore has already become the epicenter of the infection. Doctors are still crying for the personal protection equipment including masks. Situation is quite miserable and it would intensify in the days to come. The daily wagers and freelancers would become more vulnerable. The government has all the data and it should take relevant stakeholders on board to develop a rationale policy and inclusive implementation plan.

He mentioned instead of focusing on the crisis, the federal government is opening up old Pandora’s boxes for political scoring and vengeful agenda. We don’t see any harmonized policy across the country. Crisis would go out of our hands if the situation of chaos and confusion prevails.

Senator Sitra Ayaz said Awami National Party (ANP) said we don’t see any government plans to reaching out to daily wagers and professional freelancers except to open the markets to push them to the hell of crisis. Despite having resources and databases, the government is playing inefficient in reaching out even to poor. Some eyewash would not serve the objective. Undermining all the available systems, the federal government wanted to establish a Tiger Force that is not seen till today. The available religious, social and democratic systems were neglected in all the strategies to combat the Covid-19 menace. Union Councils and school systems were abandoned just to make the Centre take credit of the relief services but federal government was failed miserably. Still they should have the chance to reach out to the vulnerable citizens through the available mechanisms.