Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday announced several austerity measures, claiming their successful implementation can save up to Rs. 200 billion, as citizens struggle under inflation triggered by the an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal seen as necessary to avoid default.
Addressing a press conference flanked by cabinet members of all parties comprising the ruling coalition, Sharif announced that ministers, advisers and special assistants to the P.M. have “voluntarily” decided not to take salaries from the government to save millions from the national exchequer. Additionally, he said, all ministers will pay their own utility bills; will return luxury cars, which will be publicly auctioned; will only be provided one vehicle for security, when necessary; will travel in economy class, not stay in five-star hotels, and will not be accompanied by delegations on foreign tours; and will only undertake official tours when absolutely necessary, while preferring Zoom conferences otherwise.
In addition, all ministries, divisions, departments, sub-departments, and independent organization would cut their current expenditures by 15 percent; there will be a bar on government purchases of luxury cars until June 2024; car allowances for government officers with official vehicles will be discontinued; and cars provided to government officers for security will be withdrawn. The prime minister also announced that no new departments or divisions would be created; the government would seek to conserve power and gas by opening offices at 7:30 a.m.; government meetings would be restricted to “one dish”—not applicable to foreign guests—and government officers will be restricted to allotment of just plot; and power supply to malls and markets will be cut off if they don’t shut down by 8:30 p.m.
The government also announced that townhouses will be constructed for ministers and government officers; a single treasury account will be established; and Toshakhana gifts’ details will be made publicly available online.
Stressing that austerity measures were a priority for the coalition government amidst the ongoing economic crunch, he urged the entire nation to adopt “a simple lifestyle” as the current wave of inflation will continue in the near-term. He also appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, chief justices of all high courts, lower courts, and the chief ministers of all four provinces to help in implementing the federal government’s measures.
Referring to the ‘mini-budget’ passed by the government this week—imposing Rs. 170 billion in addition taxes—in a bid to revive the stalled IMF bailout, Sharif said it had been necessary for negotiations with the lender. Stressing that these talks were in the final phase, he claimed the government would soon strike a deal with the lender. “Unfortunately, as the subsidies have ended, inflation will rise,” he warned, while maintaining that the ruling coalition would steer the country out of the current crisis.
To a question, Sharif also hit out at Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s repeated claims of the ruling parties keeping “billions of dollars” abroad, noting he had claimed he would bring this money back. “I wish that the person who made these claims, was questioned back when he was in power,” he said. To another question, he said the armed forces had also indicated willingness to reduce their non-defense expenses, but stopped short of any announcement, saying it would be better coming from the institution itself.
The premier was also questioned over his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)’s decision to seek the recusal of Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi of the Supreme Court from cases concerning the party. Maintaining that the government respects the apex court, he questioned how long it could continue to ignore “completely biased” rulings. Noting that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had been disqualified on a trivial matter while the PTI chief’s 300-kanal home had been regularized, he added: “I, not as the prime minister, but as PMLN’s head, have demanded that biased judges should not hear N-League’s cases.”
To a question on the Toshakhana, P.M. Sharif said a new policy had been inked that would restrict cabinet members, politicians and bureaucrats from retaining any gifts worth over $300. He also maintained that the entire record of the Toshakhana would be made available to public.