PM grants bonuses amid financial woes

In Local
April 06, 2024



 

Just days before leaving for Washington to request the International Monetary Fund for a new bailout package to avoid a default, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb has approved four salaries in reward for officers working in the Prime Minister’s office.

The decision belies the claim of austerity and is tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of people bearing 27% hike in overall prices and multiple increases in their utility bills.

The honorariums have been approved for the officers for making extra efforts in completion of the official tasks, said the sources. The government approved the rewards just after one month in office.
The sources said that no extraordinary job has been completed by these officers that could have made them eligible for such rewards.

The rewards will be paid by taking loans from the banks at 23% interest rate.

Last week, the prime minister said every cup of tea that is offered in his office is also bought with borrowed money. Yet, he not only approved the proposal to give up to four salaries in reward but also asked his finance minister to concur with it.

The Prime Minister Office’s employees are already getting higher than the standard pay packages.
The finance minister also approved two salaries in reward to the officials of the PM’s office – from grade-1 to -16 – taking their total reward to five salaries in just two months, according to the sources.

Former prime minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar had also granted three salaries in reward to the employees of the PM Office. Aurangzeb took these decisions as the chairman of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet.

The Express Tribune requested the finance minister for his comments on the development. He was also asked whether his action would bode well for a government that is going to request the IMF for another bailout package to avoid the sovereign default.

The minister did not respond till the filing of the story.

Aurangzeb and Secretary Finance Imdad Ullah Bosal are set to depart for Washington to attend the Spring Meetings of the IMF and also formally request the IMF management for a new bailout package.
Pakistan remains afloat only because of dole-outs by regional countries, the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the domestic commercial banks.

The country is adding on an average Rs48 billion per day in its already unsustainable debt pile. This debt consumes Rs8.5 trillion per annum in interest payments –equal to 90% of the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) tax collection.

The decisions of generously giving rewards to the bureaucrats indicate a lack of appreciation of the grave economic situation.

The doling out of honorariums is also contrary to the austerity policy announced by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif during his second cabinet meeting.

The sources said a proposal for offering additional salaries had been initiated by the PM’s Office and was first approved by Shehbaz himself.

 They said the PM approved a fresh one-month salary in honorarium for his grade-17 to -21 officers.
Shehbaz Sharif also restored three salaries in honorariums for the officers, which the former caretaker PM first approved and then withheld after The Express Tribune approached the PM office for a version.
The secretary to the PM did not respond to a request for comments.

In his capacity as ECC chairman, the finance minister gave approval to grant four salaries in honorariums to grade-17 to -21 officers, including three that were restored by the PM. The total impact of the fresh decision would be around Rs51 million, said the sources.

The ECC chairman also gave two salaries as reward to grade-1 to -16 officials of the PM Office. Earlier, the former PM had given three salaries to all the officials (from grade-1 to -16) as a departing gift, which cost another Rs51 million. This brings the total honorarium awarded to the officials of the PM’s Office to five salaries.

The federal government’s budget deficit widened more than 50% during the first half of this fiscal year, requiring prudent fiscal management and leaving no room for any kind of rewards.

Compared to the private sector, the low-paid employees are getting higher salaries and enjoying job security. In the first half, the federal government’s total expenditures surged by 58% compared to the same period of the previous year.

The total expenses amounted to Rs6.7 trillion – higher by Rs2.5 trillion. There was also a 50% increase in the current expenditures that amounted to Rs6.6 trillion in six months.

Reward programme

According to sources, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a recent meeting of his cabinet indicated initiating a “reward programme” for high-performer bureaucrats in ministries by making a 100 per cent increase in salaries.

The PM appreciated the role of proactive secretaries heading divisions for their depth of sector-specific knowledge and professional calibres.

He said high performers would get suitable rewards while the underperformers would be answerable for their inefficiency. The premier urged civil servants to do away with the attitude of red-tapism and to work on simplifying processes.

The role of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) was applauded in this regard, which he said provided a robust mechanism to address hurdles in implementation effectively and to facilitate the ease of doing business.

The premier also observed that there was too much emphasis on paperwork-driven processes in the ministries and that out-of-the-box problem resolution was only marginal.

He emphasized the need to develop mechanisms that encouraged creative thinking to achieve targets and new tools and strategies focused on outcomes. Automation across all Government departments was also stressed.

WITH INPUT FROM ZAFAR BHUTTA IN ISLAMABAD

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