close
Tuesday April 23, 2024

Fiscal reforms

By Mansoor Ahmad
April 03, 2024
This screengrab taken on March 5, 2024, from Pakistan Expo 2020’s YouTube video posted on October 5, 2021, shows Muhammad Aurangzeb speaking about investment opportunities. — YouTube/PakistanExpo
This screengrab taken on March 5, 2024, from Pakistan Expo 2020’s YouTube video posted on October 5, 2021, shows Muhammad Aurangzeb speaking about investment opportunities. — YouTube/PakistanExpo

LAHORE: It is unfortunate that the government's plan to reduce government expenditures is still in limbo, and the cosmetic actions of not drawing salaries are nullified by availing perks and entitlements that have higher costs than salary bills.

The spirit of austerity is not being observed. All federal ministers have pledged not to take salaries. But they have not abdicated their right to forgo other perks and privileges. They certainly need a residence in Islamabad, but they should not opt for customary renovation and change of furniture. The older furniture should suffice (which is hardly one year old). They should restrict themselves to one vehicle and half the petrol allowance they are entitled to. All federal ministers traditionally go to their city of residence on weekends or holidays.

This should not be done at state expense. They must not avail security protocol when they are in their city weekly on the pretext of some official engagement. There are 52 weeks in a year, and most of them go to their place of residence at least 50 times a year. The expenses of these 50 visits are many times higher than the salary of each minister.

It is a norm in Pakistan that the house of the Prime Minister in his resident city is declared PM house, which entails heavy expenses. In Japan, the official Prime Minister House has been awaiting repairs since 1947 because of ‘scarcity of funds’.

Any Japanese Prime Minister who still chooses to stay in that three-bedroom house is provided security. If the Prime Minister decides to live in a rented house or in his own residence in Tokyo, then the security protocol is withdrawn (the PM should arrange private security).

The residence is not given the status of PM house. The Japanese PM travels internationally on commercial flights with a small entourage. Austerity demands that the Pakistani Prime Minister should emulate his Japanese counterpart in this regard.

In Pakistan, both Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and President Zardari have announced they will forgo their salaries, but instructions have been issued to declare Zardari’s ancestral home in Sindh as President House, while Shahbaz’s residence in Lahore is already declared PM house. The cost of maintaining these additional President and Prime Minister houses is many times higher than the salary they have parted with.

There are hundreds of avenues from where expenses could be reduced. The practice of making a committee to recommend the avenues from where savings could be achieved is a long exercise.

The government could act on those recommendations when the report is received, but in the meantime, the state should take immediate actions on fronts from where savings could be achieved. We need a saving of Rs1 trillion in government expenses that would be possible if the PM committee did its work sincerely.

Ideally, the ruling elite and the government functionaries must feel the misery that ordinary citizens go through. They should pay their power, gas, and other utility bills. They should also be subjected to load shedding that ordinary citizens suffer. These elements are used to living in luxury, but now that the country is in financial trouble, they must at least cut their expenses and perks by 50 percent. Even then, they would live in luxury.