While the masses suffer under austerity, PTI's Shaukat Yousafzai enjoys his new Rs8mn car
In August 2018, while addressing the nation, Imran Khan said that his government, unlike its predecessors, would not spend tax money on luxury items. In fact, he stated that an austerity drive would be implemented across the country when he assumes power. In the past, Imran and ministers of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have repeatedly criticised previous regimes for their lavish spending on bulletproof cars and other luxuries at the cost of the public exchequer.
Yet, it appears that PTI is now falling victim to the very behaviour it once condemned, given that the expenses of the PM Office have increased under the current budget. It was also recently revealed that Shaukat Ali Yousafzai, a PTI minister in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), has been given a luxury vehicle worth Rs8 million.
As per their own austerity drive, a minster is allowed to have an 1800cc car provided for them, however, the vehicle which Yousafzai has been provided with is a 2800cc Toyota Fortuner.
This raises two pertinent questions. Firstly, why has the K-P government been allowed to import a car which does not fall within the established guidelines? Secondly, how can this unnecessary expenditure be justified at a time when the government is calling for the implementation of severe austerity measures and while the public is being burdened with increasing inflation?
The fact that the purchase of this car comes at the expense of the taxpayer, during a time of economic turmoil and inflation, will only anger the already burdened masses. A government which is trying to bring every single individual into the tax net and is gradually increasing direct and indirect taxation will be unable to increase its tax base if it continues to endorse such activities. Such actions appear to run contrary to the austerity drive which PTI has spearheaded, especially since this is not the first time that such activities have been reported.
Earlier this year, the PTI government rented 300 Toyota Land Cruiser Prados for the reception of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, while it is also reported that President Arif Alvi’s visit to Gilgit Baltistan (G-B) cost the national exchequer Rs50 million. A tender was also issued for the building of cages for parrots, worth Rs2 million, at the president’s house. This was subsequently cancelled once the news became the subject of much online ridicule. At a time of economic uncertainty, using the national exchequer to award members of PTI perks and privileges raises questions about the party’s own commitment to the austerity drive.
Now that Yousafzai has been given a type of vehicle which ignores the stipulated rules, it can be expected that other ministers will also follow suit, since if the rule can be broken for one, can also be broken for another. If PTI cannot eradicate the systemic culture which misuses the taxpayer’s money, then they have little moral ground from which to criticise previous governments.
PTI’s hopes of establishing an Islamic welfare state where everyone is accountable before the law cannot be achieved if its own ministers continue to misuse revenue from taxes, ignore established rules, and lead a lifestyle which appears unconcerned with the plight of the masses. Alvi has not been questioned regarding his trip to G-B, nor has anyone raised a voice against Yousafzai. Using austerity as a slogan is meaningless if it is not adhered by those in power.
Nonetheless, whenever PTI is found guilty of taking U-turns, its ministers manage to come up with some rather absurd justifications. In the case of Yousafzai, he maintains that he needed the luxurious Toyota Fortuner because he has to travel to remote areas of K-P and that normal cars cannot navigate this terrain. Naturally, one wonders how Yousafzai was able to travel in K-P before coming to power, or how anyone commutes there in their regular vehicles. If anything, Yousafzai should realise that the ‘inconvenience’ he faces is trivial compared to the problems faced by those who reside in these remote localities. Perhaps Yousafzai should reassess his priorities and focus on building roads and infrastructure in order to connect these areas and their residents to major cities in a better way.
PTI cannot keep the masses busy with tales of corruption of the previous regime while adopting the same old, luxurious spending style of the previous governments. PTI always takes criticism as a personal rivalry and it never walks the talk to silence its critics. Mere optics will never solve the crisis of governance, nor can PTI hope to excuse such behaviour and promote austerity simultaneously.
After all, there is an old saying,
“You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”