Courtesy:- MALIK MUHAMMAD ASHRAF
Engine of socio-economic change
The status of the youth of a nation as architects of its future progress and prosperity, has an unqualified universal recognition in the modern era and that is why the nations all over the world focus considerable attention on harnessing the potential of their young generations — their human capital — through education and imparting of skills to ensure their productive absorption in the workforce as well as the creation of opportunities for their self-employment to accelerate socio-economic development of the country. In most of the developing and poor countries, lack of education, finances and technological skills are the biggest hindrances in their gainful employment in whatever opportunities are available in the job-market. Thus the growing un-employment among the youth not only affects the economic progress of that country but also unleashes disastrous consequence for the society in the shape of lawlessness and crimes.
The idea of targeting the youth from the less privileged classes gained currency during the early 1950s, became a widespread phenomenon in the 1980s and now forms an integral part of any growth model evolved in the third world countries. The strategy adopted was to provide micro-credit to the youth for setting up their own business, small industries, improving their technological skills for enhancing their chances of employability or pursing their higher education. This is regarded as a very vital ingredient of a sustained economic growth. Bangladesh and Nepal in our region who adopted this growth model are far ahead of us at the moment though they were far behind us to start with.
In Pakistan, a number of schemes on similar lines were introduced at different times by the representative governments, but they failed to achieve their desired objectives because the money allocated for the purpose invariably was distributed among the political workers of the ruling party through government lending institutions and billions of rupees were never returned to the government agencies entrusted with the responsibility to advance these loans.
Being mindful of the role of the youth in the development of the country and determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past government, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched six different schemes in September 2013 namely: Small Business Loans Scheme, Micro Interest Free Scheme, Youth Training Scheme, Youth Skill Development Scheme, Fee Assistance Scheme and PM Scheme for Laptops. These schemes were designed to tackle un-employment among youth and also enhancing their skills and capability to engage productively in the national effort to change the socio-economic profile of the country.
Under the Youth Business Loan Scheme the government committed to provide loans up to Rs5 million to the youth ensuring gender equality. The schemed differed from the previous failed schemes in many respects. Its implementation was entrusted to National Bank and First Women Bank, who could take care of all aspects of the loans without political interference in line with the policies chalked out by the government based purely on commercial considerations. The Interest Free Loan Scheme envisaged giving loans of up to Rs50,000 to the individuals belonging to the poorer and underprivileged sections of the society. Paying fees of students from the far-flung and comparatively less developed areas of the country was meant to facilitate the youth of those areas to pursue their studies unruffled by the paucity of resources.
Youth Skills Development Scheme envisaged to impart technical training to boys and girls who have studied only up to eighth level and on the job training for the graduates with monthly scholarship of Rs10,000. The Laptop Scheme, targeting the deserving students with good academic records, was also a brilliant idea to encourage them to pursue their studies with more dedication and commitment.
All these schemes have been vigorously pursued by the concerned agencies ever since their initiation in September 2013. An incisive inquiry regarding their implementation reveals that under the Youth Business Loan Scheme loans amounting to Rs11.3 billion have been approved for 15,101 individuals out of which Rs3.85 billion have already been disbursed. In future these loans will also be disbursed by Sindh Bank, HBL, MCB and Habib Metropolitan Bank which would ensure speedy disposal of the loan applications. To avoid delays in the processing of loans, balloting will be replaced by the existing loan processing procedures.
Through the Interest Free Loan Scheme Rs369.6 have been given to 17,588 individuals. Reportedly, 22,000 students have graduated in the first phase of the Youth Skill Development programme. NAVTTC is planning a short IT course for 3,000 new students in the near future. Similarly under the Laptop Disbursement Scheme HEC has given 32,000 laptops to PhD, MPhil/MS students. HEC has also reimbursed fee of almost 50,000 students of 78 universities. From now on instead of reimbursement of fees the HEC would make up front payment of fee for eligible students to the universities concerned at the time of admission.
As is evident all the foregoing initiatives launched by the government have been pursued with uncompromising commitment and the progress on them so far has been indeed very encouraging. The youth are the future of the country. Engaging them in productive pursuits and self-employment avenues is the best insurance against poverty and an irrefutable guarantee for economic prosperity. The schemes put in place for youth by the government if implemented with an unruffled commitment and disruption could act as an engine of economic change in the country. The country can move forward only when there are greater employment opportunities in the private sector.
Pakistan government at present employs only 7 per cent of the workforce and with more and more people joining the labour market, the private sector has to play a wider and more expansive role in this area. Pakistani youth are around 35-40 per cent of the total population and any move that ensures and guarantees their gainful employment is bound to accelerate the process of economic progress due to its multiplier effect besides enhancing tax revenues of the government that this newly initiated economic activity will generate.