Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will be leaving on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia with a heavy entourage of over 50 people including sixteen members of his family. The new government will certainly not be taking any austerity measures despite the worrisome state of the economy.
The entourage even includes the heads of political parties including JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto and leaders of other parties. Other members of the Sharif family will fly in separately from London and Doha to join the entourage. A wide contingent of personal staff, security personnel, media and other officials will also accompany the prime minister at state expense.
Although it is usual for a prime minister to visit Saudi Arabia on his first trip, the Sharif family has once again resorted to using the exchequer for their family members. The government has also instructed PIA to keep a Boeing 777 aircraft on standby. This is the first time in four years that an aircraft of the national airline was being used for an official visit. Yet, the information minister has claimed that it is a commercial flight and the prime minister will bear the expenses.
During his tenure as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif faced criticism after taking his entire family on state visit and numerous other private trips abroad. Former President Zardari also faced stinging criticism for extravagant spending on foreign trips. In sharp contrast, former prime minister had an austerity policy and his foreign trips cost less than half of previous governments.
The PTI has criticised the government for carrying a heavy entourage at state expense. Imran Khan had continued an austerity policy while in power, cutting the budget of his office and official residence by about 40% and only carrying a small entourage on official visits to minimise expenses. However, the Sharif family is back in power and back to their old ways.
The new government has lamented over the state of the economy but is spending millions on foreign trips. The expenditure to take a large entourage will earn the nation’s ire and burden the depleting coffers. The government needs to bring forth an austerity policy to cut down unnecessary expenditure it if is serious about bringing the economy on track.