ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday announced several ‘austerity measures’ to conserve electricity amidst a drastic nationwide shortfall. Among the more significant measures was an announcement that foreign trips for officials would be sharply curtailed, fuel quotas for government employees would be cut by 40 per cent, and a long-awaited decision to reinstate the Saturday holiday for government employees.

The austerity plan was approved in a cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Among other measures, the prime minister formed a committee to ascertain the merits and demerits of offices introducing a work-from-home policy for Fridays.

It was decided that purchase of vehicles, except for utility vehicles such as ambulances and school buses, at the government level will be restricted, and ‘unnecessary’ foreign visits, including visits abroad for medical treatment, would be banned for government officials. It was also decided that priority would be given to holding government meetings virtually till an energy conservation plan is approved by the federal cabinet. The cabinet also decided to cut the consumption of utilities at the government level and in offices by 10 per cent.

Fuel quotas for govt employees to be slashed by 40pc; body to look into designating Friday ‘work-from-home’ day

“The decision to restore the Saturday holiday will help save $386 million per annum,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference. It bears mentioning that the prime minister himself had abolished the Saturday holiday a day after he assumed charge of his office on April 16.

Flanked by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira and Minister for Communications Asad Mehmood, Ms Aurangzeb said the country was passing through a challenging phase and that all decisions were aimed at overcoming the crisis.

Ms Aurangzeb said the cabinet had approved a plan to work with provincial municipal authorities to illuminate street lights on an “alternate lighting system” to save energy. Under the system, every alternate streetlight will be illuminated instead of all in a row.

When asked about a proposal for the early closure of markets, the minister said meetings will be held between the chief ministers, the National Economic Council and the prime minister regarding how the business community and all stakeholders can be taken into confidence on the matter.

“A complete ban has been imposed on official visits by government officials, functionaries and ministries. Only obligatory visits and very important bilateral visits will be allowed,” she said, adding that a committee would decide the importance of each visit before giving approval.

Regarding the recommendation to institute a work-from-home policy in offices on Fridays to reduce demand for fuel and energy, apparently forwarded by the power ministry, Ms Aurangzeb said the premier had formed a committee to determine how “efficiency is not affected” and how the government “may benefit from it in an effective manner”.

“The committee will present recommendations in the next cabinet meeting,” the minister added.

Talking to Dawn about the measures, a senior government official wondered how the government could slash the petrol quota of official vehicles being used in the field.

“It cannot do so,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2022

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