ISLAMABAD/ PESHAWAR/ KARACHI: With government facing severe financial constraints, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has instructed the Ministry of Finance to propose strict austerity measures for curtailing unbridled expenditures such as imposing a ban on purchasing new vehicles, slapping a ban on filling vacant posts, and reducing petrol quota for ministers and bureaucrats.
The premier also convened a meeting in Lahore on Saturday (today) for considering drastic measures to curtail rising expenditures.
A top official of the Finance Division disclosed to The News that the government wanted to give a message of belt-tightening to the masses for conveying the message that they were not alone in this severe economic crunch being faced by the country. The conservation of energy needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. The two weekly holidays should also be restored.
“It will be symbolic to curtail the expenditures but it possessed a lot of importance to convey narrative of the ruling elite that masses were not alone tightening belts, but everyone was contributing to this effect,” said the official. He said that the government would submit its proposals before the PM and then get approval of the austerity measures. He said that the exact savings were yet to be worked out but it could be expected that the government could save a few billion rupees monthly.
Separately, in an interview with TRT, PM Shehbaz said the next general elections would be held within 15 months and till then his goal would be to address the challenges of inflation and poverty. “My vision is to rebuild Pakistan, and ending poverty in the country is my target,” the PM said adding that cutting the government sector budget would be part of the austerity drive.
He said his government would take "short-term" measures to address the problems faced by the general public ahead of the elections. However, he stressed that if he comes to power with the votes of people, a full-fledged development agenda would be launched to deal with issues such as unemployment and poverty.
Addressing the inaugural ceremony of Eastbay Expressway and groundbreaking of seven more development projects for Gwadar, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that having increased oil prices again with a heavy heart, the government believed that any more burden on the poor masses would be unjust and it was a time for the elite class to sacrifice. “I have called a meeting tomorrow. The billionaire elite should come forward and sacrifice for the poor masses and provide their resources through austerity. This will start from me, ministers, advisors, federal and provincial secretaries, and government officers,” the prime minister said.
He said the elite would have to play their part in that noble cause. “This is their duty. I will ensure that they share their resources for the poor and bear strict measures,” he remarked. The PM told the gathering that the government tried to avert the burden of oil price-hike, but it was done with a heavy heart as 90pc of the country’s needs were met through imported oil.
He said perceiving the success of vote of no-confidence against it, the previous regime reduced the oil prices to trap the incumbent government. He questioned as how the government could provide subsidy on the imported oil through loans.
He said the government had announced a relief package of Rs2,000 each family under the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) to mitigate the impact of the oil price hike. Meanwhile, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan decided to reduce the expenditure of all provincial government departments and semi-government institutions by imposing 35 per cent cut in their POL [petrol, oil, lubricants] expenses.
“The decision has been taken as an immediate step under the pre-existing austerity policy of the provincial government in the larger public interest,” said an official communiqué. The CM’s Secretariat has issued a letter to this effect to the chief secretary Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with the directive to take necessary steps for immediate implementation of the decision.
The letter stated that excessive and unusual increase in the petroleum products prices had put additional pressure on the resources of the provincial government; therefore, it was dire need of the hour to reduce the POL expenditure of the provincial government and semi-government departments, institutes and agencies.
According to some estimates, the decision would save the provincial exchequer an amount of Rs125 million per month and Rs1.5 billion per year. The Sindh government also decided to slash free fuel facility by 40 per cent for all its officers, chief minister, and members of the provincial cabinet.
Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah said that the recent hike in the petrol prices should not cause any further burden to the public exchequer. He said the decision to reduce the free fuel facility by 40 per cent would be helpful in lessening to some extent the new extra burden on the exchequer.
Later the Sindh government’s Finance Department also issued a notification to this effect. The measures will also be imposed on advisers, special assistants, and coordinators to the Sindh CM. The decision will also be applicable to the officials of all the autonomous bodies, semi-autonomous bodies, corporations, and local councils in the province under the administrative control of the Sindh government. The contract employees of the Sindh government if given the free fuel facility will also be affected by the decision. The notification also advised the Sindh government’s officers to minimise the use of vehicles and avail car-sharing/ carpooling arrangements for mobility as an austerity measure.
Apart from Sindh, Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab also announced a 40 per cent reduction in the petrol quota for Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) employees.
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