Traders observe shutter down strike as protests against electricity bills refuse to die down

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By Webdesk

Traders in Karachi protesting against hike in electricity tariffs on August 28, 2023. — Online
Traders in Karachi protesting against hike in electricity tariffs on August 28, 2023. — Online
  • Protesters in various cities including Peshawar, Sukkur, Quetta stage protests.
  • Caretaker govt shares plan with IMF on electricity relief plan.
  • Finance minister says relief not possible due to IMF conditions.

Traders across the country joined protesters Thursday to demonstrate against massive hike in electricity tariffs as the caretaker government expressed helplessness to provide relief owing to strict International Monetary (IMF) conditions.

The incensed citizens, already reeling under runaway inflation, have been protesting across the country for the last six days, setting electricity bills on fire while demanding the government to withdraw the hike in the tariffs.

Various traders’ associations in different cities including Rahim Yar Khan, Sukkur, Bhawalpur, Quetta, Vehari, Peshawar and others are observing shutter-down strike to force the government to provide relief in the bills.

Taking notice of the protest, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar had assured the masses that the government will explore options to provide relief but so far the authorities have failed to come up with an immediate remedy.

While showing helplessness to slash taxes on inflated electricity bills, caretaker Finance Minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar told senators on Wednesday that the fiscal position was so tied up under the IMF agreement that there was not a penny in coffers for giving any subsidy.

In her maiden appearance in the upper house of the parliament, she presented a very bleak economic and financial outlook while giving a briefing to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance.

However, parliamentarians vehemently criticised the economic policies by narrating miseries of the power consumers in the wake of highly inflated bills.

After listening to views, the finance minister replied in a lighter vein that she was wondering why she had accepted the position, but stated in the same breath that it was a responsibility one had to discharge after assuming the office.

“I have inherited the IMF programme, tied up under structural benchmark, signed by predecessor government. It’s not the IMF about which I am worried, but I am worried about the political and economic stability of the country. There is no other choice but to continue with the IMF programme for keeping dollar inflows intact from bilateral partners, which is totally tied up under the IMF programme,” Dr Shamshad said. 

The minister pointed out that dollar inflows were less than the expected outflows, indicating more difficulties surfacing on the dwindling foreign exchange reserves position.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has shared its plan with the IMF for providing relief to power consumers on account of inflated electricity bills, with assurances that none of the Fund’s agreed targets would be breached, according to The News.

Insiders in the Ministry of Finance said there was a provision for an emergency allocation of Rs250 billion in the budget for 2023-24, which could be utilised to provide relief to power consumers.

It might take some more time to convince the IMF on the proposed relief package, which might be restricted to those using up to 400 units. 

Staggering of billing would also be done while some protected consumers’ bills might be reduced with the allocation of funds for the purpose of emergency allocation of Rs250 billion, allocated in the budget for 2023-24. 

“But this amount will only be utilised for users of up to 400-unit slabs, with the permission of IMF,” said top official sources while talking to The News on Wednesday.

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