Towards belt-tightening



PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif has represented feelings and aspirations of people of Pakistan by initiating belt-tightening measures in a bid to help overcome the ongoing financial and economic crunch. After chairing a cabinet meeting that approved the steps, the PM unveiled the plan to save Rs 200 billion at a news conference, which was also attended by representatives of the coalition partners to convey an impression that all were on board on this vital issue.

The Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues have done well by opting to lead by example as they have voluntarily decided not to receive salaries from the Government and going a step further agreed to pay power, gas, telephone and water bills from their own pockets. The cabinet might have its own reasons to decide to take back luxury vehicles from cabinet members, which is appreciable, but the decision to auction them is not wise. Similar moves by Junejo and Imran governments did not contribute anything worthwhile to the national kitty and instead national assets were disposed of at throw away prices and later new vehicles at much higher cost were procured. We, therefore, oppose the decision to auction official vehicles and instead they continue to remain in the cabinet pool for use during visits of foreign dignitaries. However, the decision not to buy any luxury car till June 2024 is understandable and, in fact, there should be a complete ban on procurement of any vehicle by government ministries, divisions, departments and subordinate offices. There might be some genuine requirements for official vehicles by some offices which should be met by withdrawing the facility of cars to those senior officials who are drawing sumptuous car allowance and also misuse official vehicles. Several other measures have also been introduced to save substantial amounts being currently spent on transport in the public sector but strict vigilance will have to be maintained and violators taken to task to prevent misuse of official transport.

The spirit behind the move to open offices at 7.30 am is praiseworthy but it will not yield anything substantial in the absence of time management in ministries and departments. It has been observed that lethargic officers with questionable motives prefer sitting late in the evening along with most of the staff and consume more facilities than they do anything good to the public service. All heads of departments and subordinate offices should be directed to ensure disposal of all business in hand well within the office hours and discard the tendency of late sitting that involves wastage of electricity, gas, telephone, entertainment and transport facilities. In order to discourage the culture of late-sitting, this habit should be reflected in the performance evaluation reports of the concerned officials. The country is passing through a difficult period and each and every citizen, as pointed out by the Prime Minister, has to contribute his/her share to the austerity campaign. As the business community has not been cooperating in implementation of plans to conserve energy, the decision to cut electricity to markets and malls by 8.30 pm is a step in the right direction. Restrictions on unnecessary travel within the country and abroad would also help save money if implemented across the board and undue exemptions are not given.

Ministries, divisions, departments and subordinate offices already face shortage of funds and the requirement for them to cut their current expenditure by 15% would jeopardize their working as they are already facing issues like delays in disbursement of salaries and pensions. The idea to construct townhouses for ministers and government officers is not bad but everyone knows official guest houses/rest houses are grossly misused. There would be no need to build new facilities for the purpose if use of the existing ones is rationalized. It is also a foregone conclusion that these and other measures announced by the Prime Minister would produce the desired results only if the heads of other state institutions and the provincial governments also agree to contribute their due share to the austerity drive. In this regard, the PM has made an impassioned appeal to the judiciary and the provinces and hopefully a positive action would be forthcoming on a priority basis.