PM unveils major austerity measures to save Rs.200b

By Ali Imran

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Wednesday unveiled a host of austerity measures to save Rs200 billion — aimed to keep the country afloat as the nation buckles up to meet the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditions.
Pakistan is desperate to unlock the next tranche worth $1.1 billion loan facility with the IMF but is struggling to meet tough conditions set by the global financier.
The IMF is demanding that Pakistan boosts its pitifully low tax base, end exemptions for the export sector, and raise artificially low energy prices that are meant to help poor families. The nation is in dire need of funds as it battles a wrenching economic crisis as the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP)-held foreign exchange reserves barely cover one month of imports. Addressing a press conference flanked by cabinet members, the premier announced that the ministers and advisers to the premier have “voluntarily” decided not to take salaries from the government in order to save millions from the national exchequer.

The prime minister said that austerity measures were a priority for the coalition government, and the ongoing situation also demands the nation as a whole cut down their expenses and move towards a simple lifestyle.

He appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, chief justices of all high courts, the lower courts, and the chief ministers of all four provinces to the federal government’s measures.

The prime minister said that it was crucial for the leaders to adopt the austerity measures as the country is facing an uphill task on the economic front.

Premier’s press conference comes, two days after the National Assembly unanimously approved the government’s much-needed Rs170 billion ‘mini-budget’ — a move mandatory for seeking a $1.1 billion tranche of the IMF loan.

The prime minister said that the government passed the ‘mini-budget’ to meet the IMF’s preconditions, but noted that the inflation was rising due to the Washington-based lender’s demands.

PM Shehbaz said that the talks with IMF were in the final phase and the government would soon strike a deal with the lender. “Unfortunately, as the subsidies have ended, inflation will rise.”

The premier said that the centre would take the country out of the economic crisis with the help of the “elders and the nation”.

In response to a question, the premier said that a person — Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran — would claim that politicians have kept billions of dollars abroad in Swiss accounts.

“This person would say that he will bring that money back. I wish that the person who made these claims, was questioned back when he was in power,” the prime minister said.

In response to another question, he said that the government respects the superior court, but for how long would it keep its eyes closed when judges are “completely biased”.

The prime minister said that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif was disqualified in a trivial matter, while the court regularised Khan’s 300 canal home.

“I, not as the prime minister, but as PML-N’s head, have demanded that biased judges should not hear N-League’s cases,” PM Shehbaz stressed.