ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour is sticking to his guns on the government’s bailout package: he wants the gift to keep on giving.
After the finance ministry released an emergency Rs1 billion, Bilour was far from satisfied, reportedly telling President Zardari that the government should shut down Pakistan Railways (PR) if it is unable to provide the additional funds he has requested.
The minister was in a fatalistic mood at a press conference on Tuesday, even pointing to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan which do without a railway system. Bilour was also willing to accept personal responsibility for the downfall of PR during his term: “If anybody considers me part of the railway problems, I am ready to resign.”
For its immediate infrastructure requirements, Bilour said that PR needs Rs6 billion to repair and purchase engines, Rs4 billion to upgrade signals, tracks and bridges, and Rs1 billion for emergency diesel.
Row over salaries
Protesting railway workers have been appeased by government promises, but perhaps only temporarily.
Bilour said that rail employees and pensioners would be paid from Wednesday (today), after receiving the essential Rs1 billion from the government on Tuesday which got trains across the country back on track, albeit with large delays on all lines.
The money injected by the ministry is to ensure payment of salaries and pensions, but it will barely be sufficient for a month, sources said. In this year’s budget, Rs11 billion was allocated to salaries of Pakistan Railways employees, while 5.9 billion was allocated to pay for pensions.
More pressure was applied by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who chided the government for “abdicating its responsibility” of paying salaries to those employed by the state, including teachers and health workers in addition to railway employees.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2011.
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