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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Friday launched the National Poverty Graduation Initiative here to steer the poorest household out of poverty by providing them interest free loans, assets transfers and vocational and skills trainings.

The launching ceremony, held at the PM Office, marked the distribution of cheques of varying amounts of interest free loans to help the poor establish, or uplift their small scale businesses to support their living.

Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood and Special Assistant to PM on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar also attended the ceremony, besides a huge number of representatives from collaborating organizations and beneficiaries of the programme.

The ceremony coincided with 391 similar cheque distribution events held across the country where 86,151 interest free loans worth Rs 3.02 billion were given out to the deserving persons.

Addressing the gathering, the prime minister said Ehsaas program was driven from the model of Madina state that had given the concept of modern welfare state and now being pursued by all the developed countries in the west.

He said the government had already increased the budgetary allocation for Ehsaas to Rs 200 billion that would further be enhanced in the future.

He announced that the government would divert all the money coming from the sale of Benami properties to the anti-poverty initiative.

The prime minister said the government would be launching different schemes under its flagship poverty alleviation programme ‘Ehsaas’ every month. Ehsaas was the first well-integrated anti-poverty programme in which all the ministries had their role, he added.

The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is the leading implementing agency for the National Poverty Graduation Initiative, which is aimed at reducing the population’s dependence on government-led social safety nets and bring them into the mainstream of economic development and financial inclusion.

The government in addition to providing funds for the initiative is partnering with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The total projected cost of the initiative is Rs 42.65 billion.

Imran Khan said around 60 percent Pakistan’s population was below 30 years of age that could prove to be a great force if imparted proper skill training and given ample opportunities to excel.

He said despite having meagre resources, the State of Madina had provided a basis for the Muslims to rule for 700 years just because that state had compassion towards its citizens which unfortunately had been lacking in Pakistan.

The prime minister said the Naya Pakistan would bring the people out of poverty in real terms following the footsteps of the State of Madina by allowing the wealth creation.

Revealing the eye-opening statistics, the prime minister said around 5 percent of Pakistan’s population was infected with Hepatitis-C but the ruling families had been showing blithe lack of concern towards the situation.

He said the Ehsaas programme would change the public mindset to create a realization at the state level though the people were already compassionate towards the poor and had the philanthropic nature.

The prime minister said he had taken the challenge of revamping the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to make the people pay taxes, who had been giving out their hard-earned money to philanthropy.

He announced that the government would amend the laws to enhance the reward from existing 3 percent to 10 percent for the whistle-blowers, who would point out any Benami property.

He said the government would spend all the revenue generated from the sale of Benami properties on the Ehsaas programme.

Responding to the criticism from Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, the prime minister said during their tenures they had served their own interests and had even failed to establish a hospital where they could get their own medical treatment.

He said during their governments, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif had paid 40 trips each to Dubai and London respectively while the country’s loans had swelled from Rs 6,000 billion to Rs 30,000 billion during the last 10 years.

Addressing the event, Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood said under the Ehsaas programme, it was the first time that the state had come up to show compassion towards the poor. The programme would help execute the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan to transform the country into a welfare state.

The establishment of shelter homes for the down-and-out people was the first deeply felt gesture in that regard, he added.

He said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's politics was focused at the changing living standard of the poor. In collaboration with his ministry, various initiatives were being planned under the anti-poverty initiatives, he added.

“Ensuring equality, training our people, and providing access to opportunities to every Pakistani is the core thinking behind this Initiative; my ministry is very pleased to respond to the invitation of the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division to collaborate in this programme; we have agreed on information sharing and are devising a mechanism to work closely together,” he remarked.

He said the ministry was already running a programme for the enrollment of out-of-school children, besides working to introduce a uniformed educational curriculum.

The minister said around 100,000 people were being imparted vocational training and more youngsters would be trained under the anti-poverty programme.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation and BISP Chairperson Dr Sania Nishtar, in her address, said ensuring equality, training the people, and providing access to opportunities to every Pakistani was the core thinking behind the Initiative.

“Through Ehsaas, we can deliver welfare to the poorest of the poor; but we can’t do that with money alone. Unless institutions have the ability to deliver, the money will go to waste and can be mistargeted. Therefore, a very important component of this programme centers on governance reform.

“Tomorrow, I will be launching a 30-point centered governance policy for safety net institutions under my oversight,” she added.

She said the government's anti-poverty programme would be different from the previous programme, which had been marred by corruption and nepotism; however, the government would ensure maximum transparency in its programme that was more integrated and synergized.

She said during next four years, every month around 80,000 interest-free loans would be disbursed nationwide.

She said the range of the interest free-loans was Rs 20,000 to Rs 75,000. As many as 3.8 million interest-free loans would be provided to 2.28 million households. In total, 14.7 million people would benefit from it.

Interest-free loans are accessible through 1110 existing loan centers operated by partnering organizations.

Under the initiative, skills and business development training will also be provided where at least 20,000 youth will be provided special skills to develop innovative businesses. This training will benefit 129,000 people.

Furthermore, 225,000 assets will be provided to the poorest of the poor to start their businesses along with skills training and business planning. The average cost of the asset, which will be given as a grant, is Rs 50,000. A total of 1.45 million people will benefit from this component.

The initiative will be executed by PPAF, Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), and 40 partnering non-governmental organisations, including the Rural Support Programme and Akhuwat.

It is being rolled out in over 100 districts and will impact a total of 16.28 million people, 50% of them being women. The initiative also targets youth, persons with disabilities, transgenders, minorities, and marginalized communities in lagging districts.

Copyright APP (Associated Press of Pakistan), 2019