PM unveils major austerity measures

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday unveiled a massive austerity drive at the federal government level to slash expenditures while eyeing an ambitious plan to save Rs200 billion annually.

Addressing a news conference along with the members of his cabinet, the prime minister said the result of such a frugal exercise would yield far-reaching effects. The prime minister said that the federal cabinet in today’s lengthy meeting had deliberated and the members decided with their sweet will that all the federal cabinet members, advisers and special assistants would not draw salaries and other privileges.

All members of the cabinet would pay the utility bills from their own resources and would return all the luxury vehicles which would be auctioned, he said, adding the cabinet members would use economy class during their visits abroad while their assisting staff would not be allowed to accompany them. The prime minister further said the cabinet members, during their visits abroad would not stay in five stars hotels.

All the division, departments, subordinates and other government entities under the federal government would slash their current expenditures by 15 percent whereas the purchase of luxurious vehicles would be completely banned. The prime minister said the senior officers in the federal government who had been utilizing official vehicles besides, availing the monetization scheme would return all such vehicles.

He said this practice was being immediately banned and anyone found violating the ban would be proceeded against. The prime minister said that extra security vehicles for the cabinet members would be withdrawn and a committee headed by the interior minister would decide the matter in case of threats.

The TA, DA of the officials would be reduced by utilizing the telecommunication facilities like holding of zoom conferences which would be promoted to save expenditures. The prime minister further announced that a single treasury account would be established. For the purpose of power and gas saving, the government offices would start functioning from 7.30am during the summer season while power-saving items would be used in the offices.

At the federal government level, no division, unit, district, or tehsil would be created for administrative purposes. The government servants would not be allotted more than one plot and a committee would present a plan of selling out the palatial official residences constructed during the British era, in a transparent manner, fetching handsome amount for the cash-strapped national exchequer, he added. The prime minister said during ceremonies and in official meetings, single dish would be used except for foreign dignitaries, adding during the 2023-24 fiscal budget, extra measures would also be announced including steps to reduce losses of the state enterprises.

The prime minister said the cabinet members should be appreciated for their sacrifice and goodwill gesture for their decision over salaries and privileges. Replying to a question, he said that they would announce a decision over the size of the cabinet in the next few days.

All the members of the cabinet, in today’s meeting, had insisted upon slashing the size of the cabinet, he added. The prime minister also appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan and all the CJs of the high courts and provincial chief ministers to take similar decisions under their jurisdiction. He also warned that the energy conversation plan was not being fully implemented and they would be forced to take steps to enforce it.

About Toshakhana, the prime minister said the cabinet had decided that a gift worth $300 (Rs80,000) could be retained and others would be deposited in the Toshakhana while the record in this regard would be published on the website for the information of the general public. He informed that an Independent third party would make the evaluation of these gifts. To a question, the prime minister said there was no shortage of wheat and flour in the country as PASCO had already imported wheat and the situation in the provinces should also improve.

The prime minister elaborated that during the mini-budget, the government decided to tax the luxury goods in order to protect the common man who had already been burdened with the price hike. He said that the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was in the final stages and hoped that would it be finalized soon as all the conditions had been met. The prime minister said that the people could experience price hike as the subsidies were slashed, still the government was working hard to save the poor people.

Poverty, he said, had unfortunately increased but they were trying to overcome it. The prime minister said that he did not want to peep into the past, but wanted to remind the nation that during the last 75 years, the middle and poor classes always rendered sacrifices for the country whether it was war of 1965, quake or floods.

During the last 75 years, the governments had increased their expenditures and burdened the poor, on the other hand, the elite class and well-off people, no doubt, had also contributed for the country, but they had not done so much as was required. The prime minister regretted that the free treatment facility for the poor during the PML-N government was ended by the subsequent governments. The prime minister resolved that despite certain issues, the coalition government, with the support of the nation, would steer the country out of the current problems.

He stressed upon collective efforts by all if they wanted the country to move on the path of progress and prosperity by realizing the vision of Quaid e Azam, adding that all the institutions had been working under the ambit of the constitution in this regard. In today’s cabinet, meeting, he said, they had agreed to alleviate the sufferings and ordeals of the poor segments of society across the country.

A committee was tasked to come up with the recommendations to lower the burden on the poor and middle classes, he said and urged the wealthy and well-to-do elements to come forward. In response to a question, he said the armed forces had also given positive response over the austerity measures. Replying to a question, he said in a veiled reference to PTI’s chairman Imran Khan that in the past, he used to claim to return back 300 billion dollars of the country stashed away in Swiss and UK accounts.

He said that such a question should have been raised during Imran Khan’s three- and half-year tenure. The prime minister said he Imran Khan Niazi had misused funds for charity purposes and was caught red-handed. He sold out a watch bearing a model of ‘Khana Kaaba’ in the market instead of depositing it in the Toshakhana. Moreover, he duped the nation with the production of a fake receipt. The gift was given as a token of esteem for the entire nation, he added.

The prime minister said that foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was himself bearing all the expenses of his foreign visits. About holding of the elections in two provinces, the prime minister said that he would follow the constitution as the relevant forums would decide it. The prime minister, responding to a question, said that he would write a letter to the president on his direction with regard to holding of elections in two provinces.

He regretted that some nine months back, the president was also involved in the dissolution of the assembly which they viewed as unconstitutional steps on his part. The prime minister said that they held the judiciary in high respect and expected that impartiality would be maintained. He said in Nawaz Sharif’s Panama case, the former prime minister was disqualified on the basis of Iqama. On the other hand, Imran Khan Niazi’s house spreading over 300 kanals was regularized.

He said during an interview with VOA, Imran Niazi had denied role of US in the change of his government, but in the last nine months, he built up a false narrative by creating havoc in the country. The prime minister said that he (IK) was responsible for straining bilateral ties with the US.