• Austerity measures introduced to cut cost on foreign trips
• Cabinet members except foreign and commerce ministers restricted to three annual visits, exemptions apply
• MNAs, senior bureaucrats allowed business class

ISLAMABAD: The cash-strapped federal government on Monday issued a travel advisory for the president, prime minister, chief justice, services chiefs, and bureaucrats among others binding them to fly in certain classes to cut costs.

In a notification, the Cabinet Division said the president and the CJP will travel in ‘class-1’, whereas the PM, Senate chairman, National Assembly speaker, ministers, services chiefs, MNAs, federal secretaries, grade-22 officers and ambassadors will travel in business class.

Other officers of the federal government, attached departments, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, corporations and other institutions under the administrative control of various ministries/divisions will travel in economy class.

According to the advisory, foreign travel of officers shall be allowed only in cases of obligatory visits and that too in the economy class.

Non-obligatory visits

In case of non-obligatory visits that are to be funded, wholly or in part, by the government, an exemption shall be obtained from the austerity committee constituted by the Ministry of Finance in February 2024 or any successor austerity committee. Such visits, if not funded by the government, will not require the exemption. Similarly, not only the officers would be barred from staying in five-star hotels, but no support staff would accompany them on foreign visits. If required, Pakistan’s missions abroad can be approached for support staff.

In cases where funding by the government or its attached departments is involved, partial or complete, teleconferencing shall be the first preference in both obligatory and non-obligatory visits.

Approval process for visits

The cabinet members, federal and additional secretaries will have to get prior approval from the PM for travelling abroad. Similarly, the officials below grade 20 will have to get permission from the relevant minister and secretaries to go abroad.

If a delegation exceeds three members it will get permission from the PM through the Foreign Office, said the notification, adding that the PM may dispense with the requirement of routing the summaries for visits abroad through one or more divisions in cases of emergency.

It added that information about all foreign visits, irrespective of the approving authorities, would be immediately shared with the Foreign Affairs Division as well as the Pakistani missions in advance.

In cases of foreign visits by officials from the foreign ministry, a delegation of up to five members will be approved by the ministry but permission will have to be sought from the PM if it exceeds five members.

The notification said both the minister and the secretary of a ministry/division shall not be out of the country at the same time except for in “unavoidable and very exceptional circumstances”.

The ministries/divisions seeking such an exemption shall submit the case for approval of the PM and add a paragraph to the summary fully justifying the exemption being sought.

It said ministries/divisions shall ensure that to the maximum extent possible, officers of Pakistan embassies in the country in which a meeting/conference is to take place, represent Pakistan at such meetings. However, the ministries/divisions concerned shall provide proper briefing material to the Pakistan missions abroad well in time.

The conferences which can be handled by Pakistan missions abroad will be identified and proper intimation shall be sent to the missions concerned. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs shall coordinate in such matters. In case a visit is considered unavoidable, it should be explicitly mentioned in the summary as to why the Pakistan mission abroad cannot handle the issue.

The cabinet members will not be allowed to travel abroad more than three times in a year except for special circumstances. However, foreign and commerce ministers will be exempted from this restriction. All divisions should obtain NOC from the Economic Affairs Divisions for visits with respect to international financial institutions.

For workshops of government officers up to BS-19, where no government funding is involved, the establishment division in consultation with all ministries/divisions shall formulate detailed policy guidelines. Till such time that these guidelines are issued, the current dispensation shall continue.

The notification said that no minister or government functionary shall solicit at their own an invitation for participation in trainings, seminars, conferences, workshops, meetings etc. from any source.

Members of the National Security Committee, federal ministers, ministers of state, advisers, SAPMs, persons holding the status of federal minister or minister of state without cabinet rank, parliamentary secretaries, and provincial governors shall not avail of any offer of airfare or per-diem made by a foreign government or international agency for a visit abroad except made by the UN agencies/OIC.

Summaries seeking orders from the PM should reach him 14 days before the visit abroad through the finance and foreign ministries (where applicable) and shall contain details of the expenditure involved, including the foreign exchange component and balance in the relevant budget head (in the main body of the summary) and details of previous visits abroad during the last twelve months.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2024

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