The benefits of austerity

PTI is not going to be around forever and any changes they may make can be reversed by whoever succeeds them

Editorial September 15, 2018

There has been a cautious welcome in these columns hitherto for the regime of austerity that the new government is keen to promote. Some flesh has now begun to appear on the rhetorical bones with the formal announcement of Thursday September 13 that the Prime Minister House, governors’ houses in every province and a range of what are described as ‘heritage’ buildings are to be turned into museums, parks and educational institutions as well as in at least two instances five-star hotels.

Every government everywhere in the world has a range of properties in its possession that serve official purposes, but Pakistan has over the years acquired an unusually lavish collection of them. Adapting them for other than official use is not going to be cheap — educational institutions need equipment and faculty, converted hotels need top-of-the-range facilities if they are to attract custom — but in theory all of the buildings have the potential to be successfully re-purposed.

All of this austerity is going to take several years to achieve (and not cheap) and the transience of politics and governments in general has to be borne in mind. The PTI is not going to be around forever and any changes they may make can be reversed by whoever succeeds them. Currently around Rs1.15 billion are spent annually on staffing and upkeep which in terms of the overall national budgets is small beans indeed, making the move more symbolic than something that is going to create game-changing revenue streams. The question that underlies the move is whether there is going to be a generalisation of effect, whether this attempt to rein in profligacy and excess will feed through to what will be tantamount to huge paradigm shift in the thinking and behaviour of those that are elected to govern us. As such it is a bold experiment in socio-cultural engineering. It may find a fleeting resonance in the lumpen proletariat but is going to be a harder sell to those that have lived lives of entitlement.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2018.

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