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August 30, 2018

The problem with promises


August 30, 2018

The lofty promises made by the PTI when it came into power were always going to be difficult to keep. The economic problems faced by the country are structural in nature and cosmetic changes in the amount saved by reducing government expenditure on things like security and protocol would only amount to a rounding error in our total budget deficit. Still, Prime Minister Imran Khan had that claimed practising austerity at the very top would set an example for the rest of the government and so had promised to reduce expenditures incurred on his office. He decided not to live in the PM House and to forgo the security and protocol that come with the office. This has proven easier to do in theory than practice. The reason the prime minister has such a large convoy is because of the legitimate security threats he faces that requires the presence not only of police escorts but doctors and technical staff. To keep his promise, Imran is instead travelling by helicopter from his home in Bani Gala to his office in Islamabad. This naturally costs the national exchequer more. The PTI, however, does not want to admit that it is violating one of its first promises and so government officials have absurdly claimed that helicopter travel is cheaper than the alternatives. The problem here is not that the prime minister is getting the security he needs. It is that the party made unrealistic promises and is unwilling to admit to its mistake.

Something similar will likely happen with the cabinet decision to abolish the discretionary funds allocated to the prime minister, cabinet members and MNAs. The discretionary funds given to cabinet members had already been withdrawn by the previous government while the prime minister was only given Rs80 million a year. The PTI may also find that its MNAs are not amenable to having a significant source of this political influence taken away from them. Already we are seeing that the government’s behaviour is similar to that of its predecessors. The case of the DPO from Pakpattan being transferred after he refused to apologise to Khawar Maneka, the former husband of the First Lady, for stopping him at a checkpost is a glaring example. A railways officials is also believed to have been transferred after criticising Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid. Officials in every government have believed themselves to be above the law and ensured its favoured appointees are given plum civil service posts, with any dissenters punished. The PTI government, though, will be held to a higher standard because it promised it would no longer tolerate business as usual. That promise is already proving to be difficult to keep.

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