EDITORIAL: While people are finding it harder and harder to grapple with the constantly rising cost of living, those in the ruling coalition remain unwilling to part with lavish lifestyles at public expense.
Amidst the deepening economic crisis last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had announced an austerity plan for members of his grossly inflated cabinet and senior officials.
At its recent meeting the monitoring committee on implementation of that plan, presided by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, found that 16 of the 20 luxury cars given to cabinet members, parliamentary secretaries and chairmen of parliamentary standing committees had not been returned to the Cabinet Division – ostensibly, to be auctioned off.
Reports also point out that many senior bureaucrats continue to use government-owned SUVs as well as deluxe sedans. It is not known though who is in possession of some 2,200 fancy cars imported when shipments of essential consumer items and industrial raw materials stayed stuck at ports due to strict foreign exchange control.
Also missing from the monitoring committee’s deliberations are several other important austerity measures notified by the PM, including that all members of the cabinet would pay utility bills from their own pockets; not stay in five-star hotels during their foreign visits; reduction of travel and daily allowances of officials through use of modern telecommunication facilities; and last but not the least, withdrawal of extra security vehicles from ministers, advisers, special assistants and other officials who do not face security threat as determined by a committee headed by the Interior Minister. Where things stand ought to be made public.
The PM, expected to lead by example, should declare how much he has paid on account of utility bills not only for his official residence but private residences in Lahore declared as camp offices.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is said to be paying for his many trips abroad.
It is unclear if the PM frequently visiting various countries is now to travel by passenger planes rather than special jets at a large expense in the form of fuel cost and parking fees.
Also, it seems to have become a status symbol of sorts for close relatives of ruling coalition leaders as well as senior bureaucrats, without any life threat, to move around accompanied by gun-toting police escorts. This practice must be curbed.
All this at a time the government has imposed Rs 170 billion additional taxes on people as part of its prior actions for the release of IMF funding — of which so far there is no sign.
Yet in the current fiscal year, i.e., in October, the PM had announced granting a record Rs 87 billion to 174 National Assembly members belonging to his and allied parties, purportedly, for development schemes in their constituencies.
If it really wants to mitigate the suffering of the masses the government must get its priorities right.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023