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Are Pakistani leaders willing to sacrifice?

By Brigadier (r) Farooq Hameed Khan

If common Pakistanis have to bear the burden of additional taxes in 2013-14 federal budget, then is the leadership willing to sacrifice its luxurious lifestyles? If the state treasury is empty, then are Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his cabinet and parliamentarians willing to become role models in austerity and simple living? Can poor Pakistani taxpayers afford their rulers’ extravagance?

The Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang during his recent Islamabad visit gave a message of austerity to the leaders and people of Pakistan when he declined to accept any kind of refreshments at the occasion of his address to the Senate.

Setting a rare example in austerity, the African state of Malawi recently sold its luxury presidential jet for 15 million dollars to raise cash for the impoverished country. The new Malawi President Joyce Banda cut her salary by 30 percent and pledged to sell off 35 Mercedes Benz cars used by her cabinet.

During her visit to Pakistan in aid of 2010 flood victims, Angelina Julie, the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador was taken aback when she saw the lavish interior of prime minister house in Islamabad as well as sumptuous meals arranged and expensive gifts presented in her honor.

Angelina Julie put us to shame, when in her post visit report, she recommended that UN asks Pakistani government to first cut back on its luxury lifestyle and then hold a begging bowl asking aid from the world.

Few decisions by PM Nawaz Sharif’s government are indeed laudable including 30 percent cut in non-development expenditures, a medium sized cabinet, planned reduction/ merger of ministries from 45 to 20, abolishing the discretionary grants of prime minister/ ministers as well as secret funds of ministries and important embassies in Washington and London.

The re-designation of Prime Minister’s Secretariat as PM Office along with its 45 percent budget cuts as well as that of PM House, are welcome steps that will save public funds. But with the president reduced to a mere ceremonial position after 18th Amendment, the fiscal axe should also fall on the Presidency including its bloated staff. The budgets of Governors/ Chief Minister Houses, too, should be drastically reduced.

While procurement of new cars for PM Office/House has been stopped, the real objective is still not achieved. If PM Nawaz Sharif sincerely believes in true austerity he should emulate the bold step of late Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo who banned use of official Mercedez Benz cars by prime minister and forced ministers/senior government officials to move around in 1300/1000 cc cars.

The Cabinet Division which manages the federal government’s huge vehicles’ fleet should auction surplus luxury cars while retaining few for protocol duties with visiting foreign dignitaries/delegations. While blatant misuse of official cars by government officials must be curbed, the procurement of new vehicles be banned for all departments across the board.

The nation expects that prime minister and his cabinet with their known affluent background would renounce government salaries as well as perks/privileges that go with the job.

After the grand display of super luxury vehicles that brought the country’s newly elected parliamentarians (including loan/tax defaulters) for their maiden session in national/provincial assemblies, they, too, should voluntarily surrender at least 50 percent of their allowances/ privileges.

The political leadership will have to give up its appetite for multi-course dish menus in official functions. The Presidency and PM/Governor/ Chief Minister houses should be declared as ‘one dish zones’ with only minor changes in case of state functions for visiting foreign dignitaries.

Austerity is synonymous with spending cuts and tax increases; with strict measures to rein in government debt, often accompanied by economic pain and suffering. Pakistan’s top leadership should share the pain of masses in never ending energy crisis.

Is it fair that the Presidency and PM/Governor/Chief Minister houses enjoyed 24 hours power availability while poor children got drowned bathing in canals to escape scorching heat and patients died on the operation table due to electricity loadshedding in hospitals?

Will PM Nawaz Sharif’s government take practical steps to do away with the prevailing VVIP culture and protocol to reduce wasteful government expenditures? Such a culture reflects a peculiar elitist mindset that seeks public display of false sense of grandeur and political might.

The prime minister may limit his visits on official jet aircraft to Lahore. The elaborate protocol/security arrangements witnessed during Nawaz Sharif’s two recent flying trips to Lahore indicated it might be business as usual.

That the ministers will not be allowed to fly national flag on their official vehicles may only be symbolic in nature. If VVIPs (a term that should be banned in Pakistan) consider it as an insult or below their dignity to respect traffic signals, then common citizens, too, may not respect the law.

Why cannot parliamentarians/senior government officials stand in same queue along with common citizens at the airport check-in counters? Why not declare VVIP lounges at airports as ‘no go’ for the privileged ruling elite to be used only in case of visiting foreign delegations.

While foreign visits by government officials should be curtailed to essential ones only, the practice of free riders including family members, friends, media men and party leaders accompanying the prime minister on official trips abroad should be stopped.

Hopefully PM Nawaz Sharif will not repeat the experience of his December 1997 official visit to Washington DC with a 100 plus entourage, that stayed in the highly expensive Willard Hotel regarded as the glittering crown jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue and the fleet of over two dozen black limousines hired by our Washington embassy.

The cash starved nation expects that its prime minister will travel in a commercial PIA flight in economy class with bare minimum officials and stay in modest hotels/ state guest houses or ambassador’s residence abroad.

Pakistan’s political leadership has little choice but to tighten their belts real hard before expecting more sacrifices from poor Pakistanis already crushed heavily under weight of poverty, unemployment and hunger. The days of political gimmickry are over. Any cosmetic changes for short-term political gains will not be acceptable to the masses.

Courtesy: The News



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