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EDITORIAL: The federal government constituted a monitoring committee on 26 February to oversee the implementation of the austerity measures announced in a press conference by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif after a nearly three-hour-long cabinet meeting with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar seated to his left and Qamar Zaman Kaira representing the second largest party within the coalition on his right as well as representatives from all other coalition partners.

Significantly, while the austerity committee set up by the Prime Minister on 13 January 2023 comprised of a well-respected former civil servant Nasir Mahmood Khosa with Minister of State for Finance Ayesha Ghous Pasha as co-convener - an economist fully cognizant of the need to curtail expenditure given the current appalling state of the economy - three Special Assistants (Government Effectiveness, Finance and Establishment), four secretaries, Chairman CDA (whose inclusion was inexplicable) and three members from the private sector, however, the Monitoring Committee consisted of federal ministers only, including Minister for Finance, Education, IT, Law, Food Security, Advisor on Kashmir Affairs and Minister of State for Power – a composition that could prioritise politics over economics. And regrettably, that is precisely what happened.

The Minister of State for Finance, reportedly a key player in the still stalled ninth review negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is not a member of the Monitoring Committee perhaps because she was granted a three-week leave of absence due to personal reasons.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar chaired the first monitoring committee meeting and directed all Principal Accounting Officers (PAOs) to implement a 15 percent cut in their current budgets. In addition, reports indicate that so far implementation on other measures is weak to non-existent, including on recommendations pertaining to decisions approved by the 80 plus cabinet that affected themselves – no salary or benefits/privileges, payment of their utility bills from their own finances, return of luxury vehicles which will be sold, use of economy class when travelling abroad with no provision for accompanying staff members, no stay in five-star hotels during foreign visits and withdrawal of security vehicles for cabinet members with Rana Sanaullah-led committee empowered to decide in the event of threats.

Austerity measures relating to the civil service would include allowing either use of official vehicle or availing the monetization scheme, all public housing in the city centres will be sold, TA/DA will be reduced by using zoom, purchase of all luxury vehicles to be banned, low energy devices to be installed in government offices and no officer to be allotted more than one plot of land.

While there is evidence of simmering public discontent, spilling onto the streets of the country occasionally, yet the situation could well deteriorate into full-scale rioting until and unless there is visible evidence of the implementation of austerity measures by the country’s cabinet as well as by senior civilian and military officialdom.

The fact remains that with the Sensitive Price Index (SPI) as high as 41 percent for the week past and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) at the highest level in last 50 years with more price rise in the works given the mini-budget measures and the raise in administered utility prices and petroleum and products, the cabinet must weigh general public discontent against the discontent within its own ranks as well as in the senior bureaucracy.

And besides implementing the announced measures vigorously the government must also, as recommended by the Austerity Committee, cap pension at 500 thousand rupees per month per individual immediately, and ensure that the devolved ministries are no longer funded at the federal level.

The government must not lose sight of the fact that the time for timidity in taking measures is long past and bold decisions are the need of the hour.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Comments

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Muhammad Ali Mar 03, 2023 10:47am
Practically there is no government at all except to arrest & torture opposition & general public. Probably with the world's largest cabinet if someone could believe; talk of austerity is an abuse. Pakistan could experience galloping inflation sooner which it looks they are pushing for it.
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KU Mar 03, 2023 12:05pm
Talking about austerity measures by the civil raj is laughable at best, the mere word. austerity is scratching the surface, if you delve into details of the perks and privileges of the raj, you will be dumbfounded by the scale of royal expenditure being incurred by our civil government servants. Readings on history, (failed states or extinct civilizations) have taught us one lesson, incompetence at governance and greed, breed more of the same, and are more dangerous than any other threat to the state.
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Rizwan Mar 03, 2023 01:26pm
Just as most of us do the drama of going on diet to lose weight for a two or three days at best, these people too can't live without perks and luxuries.
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Shiteistan Mar 03, 2023 02:48pm
Hahahahah. Just as predicted. Not one of them will give up any perks. It is all drama. These guys are born liars.
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IMTIAZ CASSUM AGBOATWALA Mar 03, 2023 06:28pm
Private sector members should be included in the overseeing committee,otherwise we would not see any tangible results.
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Retired Mar 04, 2023 11:17am
Any committee with bureaucrats in it is bound to fail. They are too inefficient, too incompetent and too implicit with the current corrupt system to achieve any tangible results. It is like asking wolves to guard sheep!
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