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December 24, 2017

Misplaced austerity measures undermine efficiency


December 24, 2017

Nowadays austerity is a buzzword among the policymakers and it should be practiced, but enforcing it without realising efficiency itself engenders austerity and undue spending cuts do the opposite, only makes things worse.

There are certain spheres where expenses could be cut drastically like those approved for the chief ministers (CMs) and the Prime Minister (PM). We waste a lot of money and manpower on the security of these dignitaries. Besides their official residences their private residences are also declared CM or PM houses.

The security protocol is of the same level as that of an official residence and the maintenance of these residences is borne by the exchequer. This is extravagance and it should be discontinued to ensure austerity.

Pakistani rulers should take cue from Japan where official three bedroom residence of their premier is the only place that is declared as PM house. The Japanese PM house is not in good shape and requests for sanctioning some amount for its repair are turned down because of scarcity of funds. Most of the Japanese prime ministers have lived in their private residences, which are denied any protocol or budget. Though we have a lavish PM house but it is outshined by some of the private residences of our past prime ministers.

In our case, whenever we announce austerity we apply a uniform cut on the budgets of all government departments without understanding some institutions were already operating on extremely low budgets.

It is inconceivable to cut health or education budget when we are already unable to provide these services from existing allocations. Budgets of government rest houses should be drastically cut. The polo grounds and golf courses operated by the government for the official elite should be privatised.

Anyone desiring to indulge in these activities should fund them with their own money. In fact all government rest houses should also be privatised.

The government officials should manage their stays outside their work station on the traveling and dearness allowances provided by the government.

Austerity should be practiced on foreign tours. The head of the state should travel on commercial flights with his secretary and officials needed during the tour. There should be no free rides for anyone else including close relatives and journalists. The Prime Minister and his entourage should stay if possible in the Pakistani embassy.

Embassies have guestrooms for this purpose but if the entourage is large they are unable to accommodate them all. Government officials should be discouraged from official tours. When in a foreign land, they should stay in touch through technologies like WhatsApp and Skype. Video conferences are common world over. There should be no cut in education, health, and research budgets.

At the same time the departments should be advised to operate within allocated budget.They should be warned that there would be no supplementary grant. At the time of budget allocation they should be informed to fix priorities and spend accordingly, keeping in mind that in case of lower than targeted revenues their budgets would be cut. There is a need to make all-out efforts to not to cut the development budgets no matter what happens.

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