KARACHI / PESHAWAR: After an unprecedented hike of Rs60 per litre in fuel prices in nearly a week, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments have slashed the fuel quota enjoyed by cabinet members, legislators and government officials by more than a third, whereas the federal government is also considering a similar austerity move.

The two provincial governments notified the decision on Friday while a federal cabinet member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Dawn the prime minister was also mulling over a cut in fuel quota.

On Friday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on the privileged classes to make sacrifices and to adopt simplicity, saying that everyone would have to make sacrifices during these challenging times.

Addressing a ceremony in Gwadar, he talked about the government’s decision to slash petrol and diesel subsidies on Thursday by another Rs30, a move aimed at reviving the stalled International Monetary Fund loan programme.

Removing fuel and power subsidies introduced by the PTI government is one of the main prerequisites that the incumbent coalition government needs to meet to resume the $6 billion IMF programme stalled since April.

“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, advisers, federal and provincial secretaries, and government officers,” the premier said.

A source said the cabinet and establishment divisions were preparing a revised quota of petrol and diesel being given to the privileged class.

The source said that after a sharp rise in petroleum prices, the government was under immense pressure and criticism that when low-income groups were buying petrol at more than Rs 200 per litre, why legislators and government officials enjoyed it at the government’s expense.

In Gwadar, Mr Sharif said the previous PTI government never provided the people with relief when it came to necessities such as wheat and pulses during its tenure but chose to reduce oil and petrol prices when it realised that a no-confidence motion against former prime minister Imran Khan would be successful. “They lowered prices and laid a web to entrap us,” Mr Sharif said.

“Up until last week, we tried our best to avoid imposing this additional burden on the people,” he said and explained that it was impossible to provide a subsidy on petroleum products when the country functioned on loans.

He said the government was aware of the people’s struggles and the heads of its allied parties agreed that putting an additional burden on the masses was unjust.

The privileged classes had the responsibility to step forward, make sacrifices, and adopt simplicity, he said, adding that he would ensure that those who were financially blessed would keep their wealth at the feet of the poor.

“If we work together day and night, adopt simplicity, give sacrifices, then a time will surely come where we overcome these challenges and take this country towards development and prosperity. That is my belief,” the premier said.

Sindh, KP notify cuts

Meanwhile, Sindh and KP governments have also slashed their petroleum expenditure by 40 and 35 per cent, respectively.

On Friday, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah approved a 40pc reduction in the fuel quota for all provincial government officials and ministers, including himself.

He said that prices of petrol products had gone up and rising petrol prices should not be a burden on the exchequer.

Official sources said Mr Shah had directed the chief secretary to ensure the implementation of his order from Saturday (today).

They said the reduced quota would help the expenditure of fuel within the approved budgets of the provincial government and municipal bodies.

However, it would not apply to essential services, such as health, police and civic institutions, but it will be applicable to their officers.

Similarly, Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab also issued a similar order for the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, reducing the fuel quota to municipality officers by 40pc.

Administrator of District Municipal Corporation-South Dr Afshan Rubab Syed ordered a 50pc cut in fuel quota of officials with a view to keeping the corporation’s budget within control.

Separately, the KP government on Friday announced a 35pc cut in fuel expenditure of all provincial government departments and autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies.

However, essential departments and services like police, district administration, Rescue 1122 and hospital generators would be exempted.

According to a letter issued by Chief Minister Secretariat and addressed to the provincial chief secretary, the chief minister ordered a reduction in fuel expense of all provincial government departments, institutions and organisations by 35pc with immediate effect.

It said the measure would help the provincial government sustain financial pressure after a hike in petroleum product prices.

The provincial finance department issued a notification to all administrative secretaries, the additional chief secretary, the senior member of the revenue board, all divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners, and Peshawar High Court’s registrar, among others.

The quota reduction will apply to KP’s ministers, advisers, special assistants to the chief minister, officers, consultants, contract employees of the provincial government, and autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies under KP’s administrative control.

“We have issued this notification clearly indicating our resolve to implement the order of the chief minister and to adopt the austerity measures in letter and spirit,” Secretary Finance Ikram Ullah told Dawn.

A statement issued earlier said the decision to slash quotas would save the provincial exchequer an amount of Rs125 million per month.

Behram Baloch in Gwadar and Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2022

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