ISLAMABAD   -  Usman Dar is brimming with excitement about Kamyab Jawan program, the subsidised loan scheme for the youth. He likes to track the numbers of loan applications, the loans approved, the money disbursed, the jobs created on a software program. It is impressive software developed by the National Information Technology Board, or NITB, and the dashboard is updated daily and helps Dar keep a tab on the progress made so far. With the touch of a finger or a swipe, statistics in colourful infographics flash on a projector placed in Dar’s office in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

“The Kamyab Jawan program is not just limited to offering loans and business opportunities,” Dar said in an interview. “It is a national youth development programme.”

Usman Dar, the special advisor to the prime minister on youth affairs, realises time is of the essence. With election year looming close, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has to showcase projects that show tangible results in improving the lives of the people. Dar feels the loan scheme will be a major success, not only in providing jobs to the youth but also votes in the next general elections. The program is meant to “educate, engage and employ, the country’s youth, he stresses. 

PM Imran Khan launched the program in 2019 and allocated Rs100 billion. But the ambitious plan got off to a hobbled start. Within four months of the launch, the coronavirus pandemic hit the country as a national lockdown was imposed. The business industry was hit and so were people engaged in some sort of small business activity. A large number of people were left jobless in the wake of an uncertain economic situation.

‘Situation has improved’

“Due to corona, banks stepped back from our scheme, stressing that their pending payments were delayed. Running a business was coming to a halt. How would new businesses flourish,” Dar said, referring to the banks’ concerns.  2020, therefore, remained a slow year in terms of loan disbursement. 

But since last November, the situation has improved as the country has pulled through the pandemic much better than several neighbouring countries and things are picking up again. “In the last eight months, we have disbursed Rs 15 billion. Now, we have Rs. 85 billion to disburse till 2023,” Dar said. “It means our target to establish 150,000 youth business programs will be achieved successfully.”

One major stumbling block in the loan program, Dar stresses, is the “mindset of private, commercial banks.” The commercial banks in Pakistan were reluctant to give small loans from Rs 200,000 one million and now out of 1.2 million applicants, 800,000 applicants had asked for Rs 400,000-600,000 loans. They had not asked for bigger loans amounts.

“Commercial banks really need to change the way they are doing business,” Dar said. “It is crucial.”

He said that the three major targeted for the loan scheme include the agriculture sector, manufacturing and services sector. “We gave major loans in the service sector.”

Explaining the reason behind the decision, he said in the services sector, retails stores were opened because one can easily operate retail stores at their homes by making a small shop. “With Rs 500,000 loan from a bank, one can easily open shop at his home, where neither he has to pay rent separately and get self-employed. This retail store model is very popular, and we have received 400,000 applications for this. All these applicants want to open their shops,” he said. 

‘Rejection rate of applications is quite high’

Dar says previous governments were neither transparent nor fair in their loans schemes of similar nature. He claims that Kamyab Jawan program is transparent, and all data is available online, and it is constantly updated. The majority of the applicants are from rural or peri-urban areas. With an amount of 400, 000 to 500,000, people can easily set up business activities and create jobs, he said. The rejection rate of applications is quite high. Dar says there are several reasons. 

A major chunk, about 250,000 applications, were rejected by NADRA as they quoted the wrong age in the applications. The other reason was the lack of a business plan and then there were people who applied for loans under the names of their children, and those applicants had no information or experience of the businesses they intended to do, he said.

Dar said there were cases in which a father had applied for a loan to start a livestock business but when such applicants were interviewed, they knew nothing about the business. Third were those applicants, who were phoned twice and thrice, and they did not respond. It was not possible to call back every single applicant again and again since there were tens of thousands of applications, he said.

He said the majority of people apply considering the program as a grant and many people thought that the money will be taken, and it will not be returned. But when they were interviewed, they fled and withdrew their applications. In this perspective, it was the fifth reason for the rejection of applications for the loan schemes. This is the fifth reason that they fled when asked in the interview about their plan.

The majority of applicants were taking this scheme as a free ride grant but when banks clarified that this is a loan with markup, they said we don’t need it.

Initially, the submission of loan applications is free and that’s why everyone applied, but if we had put form submission fee, limited numbers of applicants had applied, Dar said. “Everyone has smartphones and sitting anywhere, they can apply within a few minutes.”

There are 472,682 loans applications in process and there are many others who found jobs through the creation of this program and these are 24599 in accordance with their respective areas where they found jobs. Dar said that through an Artificial intelligence-based system, “we can judge easily, in which areas job creation is being made through Kamyab Jawan Program’.”  

The data shows that manufacturing sector loans need to be increased by the banks. “In the manufacturing sector, with one loan, five jobs could be created. Similarly, in the agriculture sector, Job creation ratio is also quite better,” Dar said.

In accordance of loan disbursement, the major city of Pakistan is Lahore relating to the strength of applicants for Kamyab Jawan Program. From district Lahore, we received a total of 61,000 applications, jobs created 3323, loans approved were 1819, and the amount disbursed in Lahore was 1.75 billion rupees. 1250 small businesses, youth starts from loans taken through Kamyab Jawan Program’ in the Lahore district while pending applications are 569.

Dar said in the service sector jobs created were 19000, loans approved were 14000 and amounts disbursed was 8.6 billion rupees for the service sector. He told 6527 retail stores were approved, 4394 new stores were opened through Kamyab Jawan Program’ scheme. 2.9 billion rupees has been disbursed in retail stores business while pending applications are 6500.

‘Women applications’

There is the nominal trend of applications from women, Dar said. A major reason for this maybe lack of awareness or women entrepreneurs trend is not sufficiently emerged in the country. There are choices like beauty parlours for women. We have received a total of 187000 applications, out of which 139,000 applications were disapproved, he said. The remaining 2430 applications were approved, and almost 1660 women are working and 1.1billion rupees were disbursed among women. 3452 jobs were created for women through this loan scheme and 42000 applications are still in the process.

It is easy to notice that Usman Dar, who hails from Sialkot and has contested mostly against PML-N stalwart Khawaja Asif, is passionate about the Kamyab Jawan program. Its success will raise his stature and standing also apart from creating job opportunities for the youth.

‘Successful loan takers’

To show that the program was totally transparent, Dar picked up the phone and randomly dialed a number from a list of successful loan takers. The call went through to Samil Ullah in Rajanpur district in southern Punjab.

“This is Usman Dar from the prime minister’s office,” Dar said in an excited voice as he looked at the profile of the applicant on his office projector. Do you recognise me? He asked.  Sami Ullah, at the other end of the phone, replied in affirmative. “How much loan did you apply for?” Did you have any difficulty in obtaining the loan? Did you seek the help of the local MPA or MNA? Dar fired off a volley of questions.

Samiullah said he obtained the Rs one million loan in a smooth, hassle-free manner and had set up a retail store in his village. “Have you given a job to anyone else or working yourself only? Dar asked.

“A nephew was just wasting time, idling around. He is now working with me,” Sami Ullah replied.

The answer pleased Dar as a wide smile spread across his face. “See, how good this system is working,” he said, turning his head towards the scribes. “Who will you vote for next time? Dar couldn’t resist asking.

“We voted for Khan Sahab in the last elections. We will vote again for him,” Sami Ullah replied.

“Zindabad,” Dar cheered and hung up.