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ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a conference, while stressing the need for supporting the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), have recommended the authorities to set a reliable database for taking advantage of the MSMEs in putting the economy on the path of development.

They said this, while discussing at a session on, MSMEs amid Covid-19: Assessment of Loss, Relief and Recovery Policies, Coping Strategies, and the Way Forward, at the 24th sustainable development conference organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), here on Wednesday.

Regional Director International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Dr Anindya Chatterjee, speaking on the occasion, said that lockdowns and subsequent impact on the economy have seriously impacted the livelihoods and wellbeing of the common people.

The informal workers and the small businesses in the rural areas suffered the most, however, innovative government programmes rescued the most vulnerable segments, Chatterjee noted.

Senior Policy Specialist Faheem Sardar, while talking about the government efforts during the pandemic, suggested that the government should find out the needs of the SMEs to undo the Covid impact for improving the business activity.

Knut Ostby of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said there is an opportunity in Pakistan in SMEs sector, saying the country does not take benefit from this opportunity as much.

Muhammad Umer Saleem Bhatti suggested that first the country should have a reliable database of SMEs to take the benefit from the sector, which can play a significant role in economic development.

Speaking at a session on ‘Building Back Better: A Roadmap for Sustainable and Inclusive Trade and Investment’, Federal Commerce Secretary Saleah Ahmad Faruqui said, we are facing various issues with diversity and inclusion, and it is within groups, workers and even within cities.

“We are among least connected regions in the world and that has required a comprehensive strategy.” He stressed the need to target the non-traditional sectors of the economy.

British diplomat Mike Nithavrianakis said “short guidance for the new initiatives is required to build policy. Academia could be an effective tool to disseminate information. OECD is now consisting of 38 countries and the major aim is global economic integrity and to facilitate trade. Benefits should be more equally distributed to help governments.”

Huma Fakhar, CEO Map Capital said “the country is still in the phase of de-industrialisation and this image makes us not able to grow. The investors came because of the dividends and we need funds for export industry.”

Dr Syed Tauqir Shah, International Trade Centre (ITC), said “for more inclusive and sustainable development, we need to consider small and medium enterprises to get engaged through the ITC.”

Speaking at a session on “Impact of Covid-19 on Progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in South Asia: Challenges and Way Forward for Regional Cooperation”, SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Suleri, said the South Asian countries need to re-strategise their work and there should be an integrated agenda to fight any pandemic in the future.

Riaz Fatyana, MNA and Convener Parliamentary Task Force on SDGs, stated that in Covid-19 most of the SDGs are affected badly due to lockdown. He suggested that “this is the right time that parliamentarians, stakeholders and policy makers should sit together and share their knowledge, experiences and expertise to work on UN agenda for our own sake.”

At a session on Digital Economy: An Opportunity for Decent Work and Economic Growth, former Board of Investment chairman Haroon Sharif said digital economy has become a tool for growth in post-pandemic era.

He said “in Pakistan, we have seen that the number of services in addition to e-commerce have been introduced in health, education, and cash transfer areas, etc using the digital technology platform.”

Parvez Iftikhar said opportunities themselves do not yield any benefit unless properly exploited but sadly in our country, the opportunities offered by pandemic in digital space have not been fully utilised.

Dr Muhamad Jahanzeb Khan said digital economy has an exponential impact on human and economic activities being the biggest driver of transformation in all the areas.

Dr Arslan Tariq Rana stated that traditionally trade is liberalised by international institutions but recently, in post-2019 arena, regional trade agreements are also important tools for improving trade along with domestic policy reform in the developing countries.

At a session on Poverty Alleviation amid Graduation in Pakistan: Evidence from Field, Captain Syed Ahmed Nawaz said the mission of many company professionals is to get people out of poverty trap and enable them to achieve self-support in terminology of social protection programs. He said conventional programmes help poor people to fight for survival.

Muhammad Dittal Kalhora was of the view that poverty has multiple indicators and the government should give complete package for education and health, while population is also a challenge.

Samia Liaqat Ali Khan said not only focusing on health and education is the solution to poverty but there is also a need to do a lot on infrastructure.

Fida Muhammad opined that measuring poverty is important as we need data to eradicate poverty. The one area is weak which is important to know the causes of poverty.

Speaking at a session on Fighting Inequality by Promoting Diversity: Dialogue on Culture in the Post-Pandemic Time, Jami Chandio, writer and scholar, said: Cultural diversity is essential to Pakistan’s existence, but it needs to be used and developed. He said cultural diversity presents a treasure trove of opportunities within Pakistan for social and economic entrepreneurship, an example of which was the Lohooti Melo, which is an important step towards celebrating cultural diversity in Pakistan.

Chandio, for example, highlighted the experiment of uniformity in Pakistan as a “failed hypothesis”. Despite having more than 70 languages and being home to multiple religions, Pakistan repeatedly tried, and failed, to implement a narrative of uniformity.

Dr Riaz Ahmed Shaikh, dean Faculty of Social Sciences, SZABIST University criticised the practice of denying diversity and democracy and named it as one of the reasons behind rising extremism and radicalism within the country. He said single national curriculum is “unconstitutional” as it is in violation of the 18th Amendment.

At a session on “Building Forward Better: Amid recovery from the Pandemic”, Shoaib Sultan Khan, chairman Rural Support Programmes Network, said the initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic under the umbrella of the NCOC and the coordination among the various stakeholders was quite remarkable, however, he said this response was more challenging in the rural areas than the urban areas. Dr Masuma Hasan said it is unfortunate that our successive governments did not really follow the rules or honoured the conventions, which could bring positive changes. She also highlighted the trauma and hardship that women underwent in the lockdown times.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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