ISLAMABAD: Despite a strict austerity policy announced by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif last month, his cabinet colleagues and subordinate senior officers have given a hoot to the fiscal restraint measures.

A meeting of the monitoring committee on implementation of austerity measures presided over by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was informed that more than half of the luxury vehicles given to cabinet members, parliamentary secretaries and chairmen of standing committees had not been returned to the cabinet division that maintains the federal government’s central pool.

Not staying behind, many senior bureaucrats were also using official sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and sedan cars above 1800cc despite the austerity policy approved by the federal government in February. The policy has not even impressed the senior judiciary and parliamentary forums, noted the meeting that did not discuss implementation of austerity measures in the armed forces.

Takht-i-Babri workshop

Separately, the petroleum division has rather gone a step further by convening a three-day retreat at the historic Takht-i-Babri (Kallar Kahar) for a workshop on “Strategic Roadmap for Petroleum Sector”.

Compliance report says 16 luxury vehicles still in use, functionaries returned only 14 of 30 SUVs, sedan cars

It has called between 40-80 of the who’s who of the public sector’s oil and gas entities and companies to fly in from as far as Karachi and Quetta while from Islamabad the entire petroleum division and its attached departments would participate.

To spread out the expenditure, all the executives have been asked to spend out of their respective entities’ accounts for air-travel, logistic support and accommodation.

Petroleum division spokesperson retired Captain Shahbaz confirmed that the strategic roadmap development workshop would be a closed event by invitation to petroleum division organisations.

He declined to share the total expenditure, saying there would be “bare minimum expenses”. Inter­estingly, some of the companies like OGDCL and others have vast conference halls within their buildings.

Luxury vehicles

Informed sources said the meeting, presided over by Mr Dar, was told in a compliance report that out of 30 luxury vehicles, 14 had been returned by cabinet members or other functionaries while 16 were still in use.

A statement issued by the finance division, however, said that a majority of the cabinet members had surrendered luxury vehicles.

“The meeting expressed concerns over the non-return of remaining luxury vehicles and directed the cabinet division for strict implementation of the decision and to get back the luxury vehicles within three days,” the statement said, adding the meeting also deliberated upon the withdrawal of use of security vehicles and decided to implement the decision in its letter and spirit.

“The meeting expressed serious concerns on the use of SUV/sedan cars above 1800cc by some officers and directed all the authorities to immediately stop the use of all these vehicles by the government officials,” the statement said.

The meeting entrusted the ministry of law and justice with the task to “approach the superior judiciary suggesting implementation of austerity measures in judiciary and approach Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker regarding use of tele-conferences for all meetings to save time and expenditure”, the statement said, adding the ministry of inter-provincial coordination reported that it had already approached the provincial governments for implementation of similar austerity measures in their respective jurisdictions.

The meeting also discussed working hours and decided that new timing for office work will be 7.30am to 2.30pm and up to 12.30pm on Friday, starting from the first of Ramazan and will be followed in the summer season as per the decision of the cabinet. A notification will be issued accordingly.

The meeting was also attended by Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Rana Tanveer Hussain, Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar, Adviser to Prime Minister on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira, Special Assistant to PM on Finance Tariq Bajwa and Special Assistant on Revenue Tariq Mehmood Pasha besides federal secretaries and senior officers.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2023

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