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Austerity at home

A register of reports and views from the Pakistan press

Written by Ruchika Talwar |
June 9, 2012 12:32:45 am

Austerity at home

While announcing his fifth consecutive budget,Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani,along with Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh,expressed their desire to usher in some austerity for the government. Then newspapers last week reported that Gilani will vacate his official residence — known as the Prime Minister’s House (PM House) — and move to a smaller,low-maintainence house and that the PM House would be converted into a centre for advanced studies. Within four days,not only was the austerity theory debunked but it was also reported that Gilani had changed his mind to move house.

The Express Tribune carried a report titled “Second thoughts: Gilani unlikely to move out of PM House” on June 8. The report stated: “Simple: the government might retreat on what was an impressive proposal… the premier is unlikely to leave the premises,after the idea was opposed by a majority of cabinet members and Pakistan Peoples Party parliamentarians… Sources said that cabinet members were of the view that the PM House belongs to the nation and is also a symbol of the nation’s pride; thus,it should not be used for any other purpose.” However,Dawn had reported just a day after Budget 2012-13 was announced that the allocation for the upkeep of not only the PM House but also the president’s house,called Aiwan-e-Sadr,had gone up markedly. The detailed report,punctuated with figures,stated that the PM House’s budget for the new fiscal year is Rs 364 million against last year’s Rs 286 million. It also had some interesting information about Aiwan-e-Sadr since it has been home to Pakistan President Asif Zardari: “The government has been continuously increasing the budget of the Presidency for the last five years. The expenses of the President’s House have increased by 27.78 per cent to Rs 616.70 million for the upcoming fiscal year,compared to Rs 482.63 million in the previous fiscal.”

According to reports,both Gilani and Zardari like the gardens of their residences to be well-tended. The aforementioned Express Tribune report says that since Zardari occupied the Aiwan-e-Sadr in 2008,its gardening bill has seen a “major jump”. From Rs 8.2 million in 2008-09,it has climbed to Rs 21.20 million in Budget 2012-13. Another report on June 4 stated that despite all the drumbeating about Gilani adopting a simpler and cheaper house,not only has he refused to move out out of the PM House,but its garden budget also has gone up by a whopping 39 per cent.

Father and son

PAKISTAN’S chief justice,Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry,known for his judicial outreach and stern stance towards the current government,finds himself in a tough spot. Despite the public embarrassment caused to him by the illegal activity of his son,Chaudhry’s upright stance has lifted him in people’s estimation,the newspapers reported. Chaudhry had shown his firm fist against a real estate tycoon of Pakistan,Malik Riaz Hussain on cases of financial misdemeanour. But his son,Arsalan,allegedly accepted favours from Hussain so as to soften his father’s legal stance against Hussain in court. The Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the case and Chaudhry headed the three-member bench hearing the case. Later,Chaudhry won accolades for recusing himself from the case.

The News reported on June 8: “… Chaudhry on Thursday removed himself from the bench hearing the suo motu case pertaining to allegations that his son Arsalan Iftikhar received Rs 300-400 million from business tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain to influence SC verdicts. Justice Iftikhar reiterated that he would do anything to save the judiciary from destruction and protect the dignity of the institution. He said the apex court would continue to conduct the proceedings in an open court,in broad daylight and in front of the media,would not discriminate in favour of anyone,and would decide the case purely in accordance with the law. The CJ also said if it were in his hands,he would have put both Arsalan and Malik Riaz in handcuffs.” The Nation added on June 8 that Chaudhry asserted “the judges are no more for sale.” The report also stated that prominent TV journalist Kamran Khan appeared before the bench and shared that he was telephonically informed about Arsalan’s involvement with Hussain.

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