Austerity measures | By Muhammad Zahid Rifat


Austerity measures

PAKISTAN is a developing country where direneed for austerity measures in every sphere of national life cannot be over-emphasized ensuring every penny is spent ant utilized for the specific purposes it is meant for.

Islamic teachings also tell us to shun lavish spending in public and private sectors and adopt adequate measures for ensuring austerity and simplicity.

Federal and provincial governments following presentation, discussion and approval of the federal and provincial budgets, issue a number of circulars for appropriate implementation of the budgetary measures.

These circulars are topped by circular enlisting austerity measures by all government functionaries for utilizing every penny placed at their disposal as a public trust avoiding its misuse and wasteful and avoidable utilization.

Over the years these austerity measures have continued to be enlisted in the circulars as an annual ritual.

Once the austerity measures like circulars are issued, nobody bothers to see that these are strictly adopted and followed by all concerned down the lines also. This scribe has been seeing these austerity measures circulars from time to time as a professional journalist.

Austerity measures normally are topped by prohibition of proceeding abroad for treatment at the government expense for such diseases and ailments for which adequate facilities and provisions are available within the country, no procurement of new official cars and other luxurious items. But these are only meant for being put in the official files concerned.

Austerity measures circular issued following the Federal Budget for financial year 2020-21 is pretty short one.

It bans purchase of new cars and motor cycles for official use and also using paper both sides to ensure maximum usage official stationary.

But there are also no restrictions whatsoever on austerity measures being adopted additionally by anyone who is treading the corridor of powers at the national and provincial levels.

One such instance which can easily be mentioned while talking about austerity measures is none else but that of PTI Chairman/Prime Minister Imran Khan who coming into power following free, fair and transparent general election in July 2018 had vowed to set an example of austerity in the utilization of public funds by the Prime Minister’s House and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Prime Minister has ever since then is keeping his words as much strictly as possible, fulfilling his promise and ensuring the expenditure is reduced to the maximum extent possible regarding the Prime Minister’s House and the Prime Minister’s Office thus saving the precious public money and also setting the appreciable and praiseworthy example for all the government functionaries down the line to saved the public money wherever possible.

The incumbent PM lives in his own bungalow and has no camp offices here, there or anywhere unlike the previous rulers and has taken measures to adopt austerity measures wherever possible so that the money thus saved is utilized for some purposeful purposes aiming at welfare and well-being of the masses at large.

Before going any further this scribe would like to mention here briefly as to why this subject has been chosen to dilate upon ahead of the upcoming federal and provincial budgets presentation for the next financial year and seeking pardon from the readers for this pertinent deviation, very much essential and unavoidable though.

Pakistan had its first TV Channel in the public sector in !964 which had complete monopoly for more than three and half decades when the first TV channel in the private sector came into existence at the turn of the new century.

Following scientific, technological and information technology developments, innovations and inventions and increasing demand for the electronic media, there has been virtually mushroom growth of TV Channels in the private sector during last about two decades.

Electronic media, both in public and private sectors, is functioning round the clock ad their programs and presentations can easily be broadly divided into dramas, entertainment, news, crime, violence, discussions and debates mostly about political developments and economic situations.

These discussions generally take place in the form of talk shows which are generally participated by political leaders from ruling and opposition parties, economic experts, businessmen and leaders from other concerned quarters by and large.

And, in a recent talk show by a private sector channel, it was purposefully or unintentionally mentioned by the participants that the expenses of the PM Office had increased the allocated budgetary provisions during the last two financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20 in contradiction of the austerity measures.

Such presentation of facts and figures on the part of the participants without quoting the official facts and figures in a wrong manner just when every information can easily be handed from websites of the federal ministries and divisions and also by surfing internet facility available in every household.

This had prompted this scribe to search for getting the actual facts and figures from the Finance Ministry sources and also searched the budget documents for the last two financial years as the information so poured out wrongly was not easily swallowed. Hence this article is based on the information available with quarters concerned.

It may been mentioned here putting the actual position before the readers that as a matter of fact the expenditure of the PM Office had actually been reduced quite considerably as promised by the PM.

As per budgetary provisions, expenditure relating to employees had increased slightly owing to the annual increments, which is basic right of every government functionary and cannot be denied, and operating expenses on the other had come down from Rs 218 million to Rs 46 million indicating a huge cut.

Similarly, saving the readers from mention of budgetary facts and figures, expenditures under heads of Entertainment and Gifts, Miscellaneous Expenditure, Wages of Household Servant, Discretionary Grants and Prime Minister’s Estate Garden Establishment had shown reduction in varying figures forcefully indicating that the Prime Minister is strictly adhering to his commitment and vision of austerity.

Facts and figures which this scribe got from official quarters just repudiate as incorrect data which was presented by the participants in the talk show as Prime Minister Imran Khan is sincerely and strictly keeping his words ensuring expenditure of PM Office are kept on the lower side possible and minimum burden is placed on the exchequer.

In doing so continuously, the PM is not only keeping his word but also setting an example for all other political leaders as well as government functionaries to reduce avoidable, non-essential and wasteful expenditure without compromising on their working and performance.

In conclusion, this scribe would like to request the participants of the TV Channels talk shows, irrespective of their political affiliation, to ensure they come fully prepared on the possible topics/subjects which are likely to be dilated upon in the discussion so as not to cut a sorry figure by putting forward wrong facts and figures to say the least, please.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist, columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News), Radio Pakistan, Islamabad.

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