Being a developing country, Pakistan faces multi-faceted challenges such as political instability, rising population growth rate and fragile security environment which has proved to be costly for its economy. During these testing times, the Punjab government has risen to the occasion and taken some very objective measures to ensure financial austerity in the province.

Austerity, a term unfamiliar for many, is on its way to make a much awaited appearance in the political lexicon of Punjab. In a well-received decision, the Punjab government has imposed an extensive ban restricting all ministers, MPAs and officials from travelling outside Pakistan for medical treatment at the government’s expense. For the first time in decades, officials and common man will set foot in the same hospitals and consult the same doctors, who we pride on, for therapy. Perhaps a blessing for Punjab’s health care chassis, this might prove to be the first step towards bringing our leaders face to face with the shortfalls in our health care system and furthering the cause of better medical facilities. Besides this, all non-medical foreign tours also face a ban which will further the austerity drive.

The ban further entails all vacant posts in government offices to remain unoccupied, with the ultimate power for recruitment vested solely in the chief minister. Although an effective measure to keep in check the wastage of funds at top level posts, this step may prove to be a constrictor for the lower strata of Punjab population applying at low-grade positions. We are already trapped in the never ending whirlpool of unemployment due to lack of job opportunities, therefore this ban should not incorporate the lower-income posts.

The Punjab government has further banned the procurement of new vehicles out of the current budget. The only exceptions are emergency vehicles like ambulances, operational vehicles for hospitals, fire-fighting vehicles, flood relief and solid waste management vehicles and equipment. The agricultural sector has always faced failing productivity and shrinking returns, therefore purchase of tractors not being a part of the ban is an encouraging news for the farmers.

Banning the procurement of generators, air-conditioners and withdrawal of ministers’ house furnishing grants which is another step in the right direction towards limiting the infamous VIP culture of the country. Furthermore, the provincial government has directed all administrative secretaries, commissioners, deputy-commissioners, head of autonomous bodies and other officials to remain restricted to their budgetary allocations through prudent financial management. The government of Punjab has also directed to strictly curb the waste of resources and leakage of funds which merits appreciation.

With regard to the placement of funds in bank accounts of entities, the government has taken measures to primarily eliminate the practice of favouring a particular company financially. Say a government department undertakes a project with company ‘A’ worth rupees 100 million. That department is not entitled to draw the 100 million from the government’s finance department and keep it in a commercial bank account of the company or in a joint account with them and subsequently clear company invoices through this account. The company payments should be cleared as per the company cash flow requirements through normal payment procedures or through Special Departmental Accounts (SDAs) set up for the purpose. This helps in the prevention of undue favors and financial misappropriations.

All these austerity measures by the Punjab government will help reduce the burden on this year’s fiscal budget of the province. This bold shift of focus towards economic stability is an exemplary act and should be followed by the federal government as well as all other provinces.

To monitor the compliance of these bans and to hear exceptional cases, a seven member austerity committee headed by finance minister Ayesha Ghous Pasha has been constituted by the provincial government. However, there remains a big question whether these measures will be adhered to in true letter and spirit or otherwise?