Austerity begins at home : An appeal to the Chief Justice

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May 24, 2022
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Austerity begins at home
Pakistan is faced with a deeply disconcerting, polarised and hostile political situation. Hijacked by its own elite, it is on the brink of moral and financial bankruptcy. Devoid of all considerations for the wellbeing of ordinary citizens, Pakistan’s political conflict is essentially a struggle between powerful political families to capture state resources, power and pelf. Pakistan’s life-threatening political and financial affliction can be cured only by creating a more equal society, introducing exceptionally stringent austerity measures and withdrawing the disproportionate and unethical perks and privileges of our ‘entitled’ elite. Thus one is left with no option but to approach the Honourable Chief Justice, the highest echelon of accountability in Pakistan, to invoke Article 38 of the Constitution and order the following austerity measures.

Fuel being the biggest import burden ($20 billion a year), we ought to begin by withdrawing approximately 150,000 government cars being (mis)used by officials across Pakistan. A near bankrupt country like Pakistan can learn from the UK where only 83 cars are maintained in a central pool for all government ministries. Next we ought to withdraw entitlements of fuel allowances for every politician, judge and bureaucrat — civil or military. Currently, the fuel authorisations begin from 60 litres per month for junior bureaucrats and go up to 600 litres per month for the senior ones. This action alone translates into a saving of Rs50 billion each year. Similarly eliminating all air conditioners and TV sets in government offices could save electricity, wasted time and energy bills worth Rs10 billion per year. A four-day work week could bring additional 15% saving on all government utility expenses.

The elite deadweight on our economy can be further reduced by banning import of all vehicles. Driving large fuel-guzzling vehicles ought to be positively discouraged. Anyone driving a vehicle ought to pay a toll tax that rapidly escalates with the size of the car. This can be easily done by installing cameras on main roads and intersections that recognise the QR code of each passing vehicle and transmit the information for automatic invoice generation.

Any attempts at reducing expenses would remain incomplete unless all major organisations, including the armed forces, are tasked to adopt exceptional austerity measures, cut down ceremonial and non-operational expenses and voluntarily bring at least 5% reduction in their budgets. Bridging the colossal inequity gap also requires the Honourable Supreme Court to order that the minimum wage is increased to Rs30,000 per month and fresh mechanisms are created to ensure its compliance. Likewise every working citizen above the age of 18 be registered with EOBI, regardless of the nature of work or employer.

Pakistan violates Article 38(a) of the Constitution by purposely promoting extreme inequality. While it pays a salary of Rs2.5 million per month to the SBP Governor and Rs1.3 million to the top judge, it refuses to pay even the Federal minimum wage of Rs25,000 to 90% of its entire workforce. Only in Pakistan will a top official receive a monthly pension of Rs700,000, while 90% workers in the country will not get a single penny, for they are not even enrolled in EOBI. Sadly even those enrolled will get a measly pension of Rs8,500 per month. Our only option is to dismantle this cruel and discriminatory system by following the footsteps of the DG Punjab Organ Transplant Authority, who has become a role-model by voluntarily reducing his salary package of Rs1 million to half. May I be permitted to appeal to the Honourable Chief Justice to order that the salary and pension of all judges, parliamentarians, ministers and all Grade 17 and above civil and military officials be reduced to half. The honourable judiciary can be the torchbearer for a prosperous Pakistan by initiating austerity at home.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2022.