Govt. must provide interest-free loans to SMEs and women entrepreneurs – Mehreen Ilahi

By Nasir Mahmood
April 17, 2020

Mehreen Ilahi, President Karachi Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry has urged the government for providing special interest free loans by banks as a priority as we are Muslim country and interest does not suit us. These loans will help SMEs and small traders if required so that they can breathe a sigh of relief and stay focused to their small industries. This will help create employment opportunities. Also taxes on the women entrepreneurs and SMEs should be reduced to half. Like the Lahore chamber other chambers and FPCCI should aid in collecting and giving ration bags and cash as they have offices all over Pakistan. This will really help our poor.

She said the planning before the lockdown to support daily wagers and poor should have been in place by Sindh government and commissioner Karachi as a number of households have suffered without food and medicine and having no cash. Suicide rate has gone up in the rural areas of Sindh. We need to galvanize and facilitate our SMEs, women entrepreneurs by giving a special bailout package for all women owned businesses and craftsmen and women as their work came to a screaming halt with this lockdown. They could not generate sales at all, while the utility bills and salaries have to be paid. The handicraft sectors are the people living under poverty line while their products are exported.

Mehreen Ilahi is known as a documentary filmmaker, member of many prestigious organisations and CEO Majmua Art Gallery. She said the country has been closed for over 5-weeks due to Coronavirus scare that it might spread. With sky rocketing dollar price of 167 against Pak rupee, we need to be practical and look at the examples of some major countries that have finished their lockdowns and gone back to work while some never bothered to even do the lockdown e.g. Sweden, Denmark and Norway etc.

Countries like China, South Korea, Japan and Australia have shown a great fighting spirit and discipline by immediately getting their industries and factories all opened. South Korea is exemplary in this regard that they not only worked on making test kits much earlier including masks, held their general elections and now ready to export their own Vaccine. Another interesting thing to note was that countries like Denmark, New Zealand and Germany; are led by women and they were extremely successful at controlling the covid-19 in time. 

This is the time to seize and grab opportunity to earn foreign exchange for the country and awakening oneself to increase our exports. Halal food from Pakistan should go in the form of lamb meat, chicken and fish. This is one of the reasons corona did not infect us too strongly as we do not believe in eating all kinds of animals such as eaten by China or Thailand or even pork. Our masses do not drink heavily to bring down the immunity. In fact due to pollution our immunity is much better and that is why there were no Pakistanis dying in Italy and other countries.

Pakistan business community, industrialists and women entrepreneurs need to take lead initiating exports of our well known brands of tissue paper such as rose petal, surgical instruments, sanitizers, masks, white bed sheets for hospitals, head covering scarves, protective gear, special hospital shoes, uniforms made from parachute material worn by doctors, nurses and doctors that can aid, our herbal spices that help. Essential oils really help in inhalation, such as spearmint, peppermint, lavender, our rock salt lamps that purify the air and remove all bacteria and viruses and we have the Khewra mines to celebrate that for and export it to the world.

I would like to add the furniture sector and the gems and jewelry sector that also exports and cannot be ignored as number of SMEs employ poor artisans to very fine crafting of wood as in Swat, Chinniot and Kashmir. In the gems and jewelry sector one cannot ignore the exports of gems, marble and granite. We have a number of gold and silver jewelry that is hand crafted. This is imperative and has to be done on a war footing. A press conference needs to be called by FPCCI and Karachi chamber and all women chambers working in the country, to push the government, State Bank and SMEDA to give support to the SMEs at this time that are the backbone of our economy, Mehreen added.

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