In his first address to the nation, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan made several notable points in what looked like a reflection of his priorities; discussing imperative issues such as corruption, educational reforms, and pledging a new austerity drive as the country faces a severe economic crisis.
The austerity drive will hopefully accentuate on the extravagant spendings of the previous governments. Imran Khan rightfully pointed out that our leaders were making unnecessary expenses on foreign tours. Nawaz Sharif took 64 international tours during his third term as the Prime Minister over which a total of Rs. 650 million was spent while the Speaker of the National Assembly spent over Rs. 80 million out of a total budget of Rs. 180 million set aside for the National Assembly, on foreign visits. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used to be accompanied by over 631 staff members on his foreign tours further serving as proof to the exorbitant expenditure.
Imran Khan has been an emerging source of hope for the people of Pakistan who have been long deprived of this feeling due to the lack of trust in the previous leaders. Citizens’ trust lies with their governments only if those in power are able to create an environment where the conditions of fundamental fairness are implemented. But under previous governments, Pakistanis were left with unkept promises from those they put in power as well as their spendthrift personalities which spiraled them into cognitive dissonance.
Prime Minister Imran Khan ensured he will not be taking any foreign trips over the next three months unless absolutely necessary. He also said no other minister except for Foreign Minister will be making mandatory foreign tours. Considering the cut off in staff members attending these foreign tours, the government spending in this area might dwindle away.
Talking about the ruling elite in the country, Mr. Khan well criticized them for their obsession with the colonial mindset still instilled in their life, which was reflected in their ostentatious lifestyle. He has promised to live in the military secretary’s residence instead of the lavish Prime Minister house which is spread over 130 acres, keeping only two servants instead of 524 previously assigned for the Prime Minister.
Khan has decided to make use of only 2 vehicles for security concerns. As part of his austerity drive, if it was up to him he would still be living in Bani Gala to save government expenditure but Khan is now the elected Prime Minister and no compromise should be made on his security.
The former cricket star turned politician has greatly emphasized on living a lean life, different than what we had seen in the country’s previous leaders. Khan plans on evading the persona of leaders living a flamboyant way of life and has already started putting his words into action. His first decision as the Prime Minister was to abandon lavish residence provided to the Governor and the Prime Minister. He also barred the nine-course meal served at the President’s house after the oath-taking ceremony.
Imran Khan stressed upon using both the Prime Minister House and the Governor house for the public good, as well as the official residence provided to bureaucrats. Civil bureaucrats of Punjab, for instance, the District Coordination Officer Sialkot and the Commissioner Bahawalpur reside in an area spread over 50 kanals and 72 kanals respectively while the Chief Secretary’s house is built on 24 kanals.
Khan’s decision to turn the Prime Minister house in a research university headed by Dr. Ishrat Hussain will not only ensure austerity but through this, a lot of employment opportunities will also be created. Unemployment in Pakistan has been a constant problem indicated by the increasing jobless growth and this initiative could very well help shrink the unemployment growth.
Khan has also announced to sell a fleet of bulletproof vehicles each priced over 18 crores through auctions and has invited businessmen to purchase the vehicles. The money raised through the auction will be deposited in the national treasury to help any shortfalls. Another remarkable decision made by the new government is the abolishment of discretionary funds of the members of Parliament, ministers, and the Prime Minister. The total discretionary spending under Nawaz Sharif was around a staggering Rs. 21 billion. If implemented, this is an excellent initiative which will help in greater accountability and transparency.
The conceivable luxuries with which some of our leaders have lived seems almost unbelievable in today’s world. One can’t help but wonder why a Prime Minister of a country would need 80 luxury vehicles out of which 33 are bulletproof and over 524 servants? A country that stands below the poverty line and 45 percent of its children suffer from stunted growth due to unavailability of food and safe drinking water should be spending more on the welfare of its people. Khan’s stand on this issue has been applauded by his staunch critics but the fact that no other leader had ever steered their focus to this growing problem is deplorable.
In 2013, only 9 percent of Pakistanis expressed their faith in the nation’s economy. This was mainly due to the Asif Ali Zardari government that Pakistanis became pessimistic about the political and economic situation in Pakistan. During their tenure, Pakistan faced the severe water and power outages and unemployment rates were at an all-time high.
Overseas Pakistanis have especially attached high expectations of the new government. Khan urged them to invest in their country or deposit in their US dollars account to help reduce the imbalance of payment and help boost the foreign exchange reserves. But the main challenge lies in creating investment incentives and ensuring that their investment will remain safe. This can only be guaranteed if vital judicial reforms are designed to safeguard the interests of overseas Pakistanis.
Pakistanis, as well as overseas Pakistanis, hope that the ‘Naya Pakistan’ will emerge as a powerful platform for tackling corruption and economic instability while also focusing on developmental opportunities which will help shape the future of Pakistan. But citizens cannot trust what they cannot see and so Imran Khan will only be able to build the confidence and trust of the people of Pakistan through transparency and accountability.
With Imran Khan’s much anticipated “Naya Pakistan”, there is a new hope instilled in the citizens of the country, even in those who oppose him that there will be a greater accountability in the top tier that has so flagrantly misused the assets of this country. Pakistan’s history is marred by corrupt politicians and incessant up gradation of the rich whilst the constant degradation of the poor. This would require a fight against the elites who have evaded taxes and accountability in any form for years.
The writer is a freelance columnist.