In order to fulfil its promise of eliminating the VIP culture, the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) in its first journey towards an austere Pakistan has started chalking out the plan to convert the palatial state buildings into revenue generating entities.
Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf was under immense pressure to open the doors of all state buildings that the party had been highlighting to have the stamp of the colonial mindset and reflect upon their occupants as being monarchs with complete impunity to transgress laws and rules. Tearing down the walls of the Governor houses across Pakistan and converting the Prime Minister (PM) House into university had all along been the part of PTI’s agitational politics.
As soon as the PTI governors were appointed, the demand to fulfil the promise of at least the symbolic manifestation of tearing down the walls of these houses started getting louder. Though Prime Minister Imran Khan has formed a 12-member committee of National History and Literary Heritage under the chairmanship of Minister Shafqat Mahmood, to decide upon the fate of the governor houses and PM secretariat, the public was in no mood to wait. Taking immediate action doors of nearly all the governor houses were opened for the public.
The committee has decided to convert the governor houses of all the four provinces into museums and art galleries. In Murree, the Governor House and Punjab House would be turned into a boutique hotel and a tourist complex, respectively. In Nathiagali, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor House would be changed into a resort hotel. In Rawalpindi, the Punjab House and Governor House would be converted into educational institutions. The State Guest House in Lahore would be converted into a five-star hotel. The 90-Shahrah-i-Quaid-i-Azam, Lahore building would be converted into a craft museum and its basement would be used for conferences. Qasre Naz, another historical building in Karachi would be converted into a five-star hotel.
By selling off the state building the government believes it would relieve pressure from the treasury that had been long burdened by unnecessary administrative costs.
Pakistan’s financial woes
Pakistan is in a deep financial fix. Less than 1 per cent of the nation’s 200 million people file tax returns, foreign currency reserves have plunged by a third this year to below $ 10 billion, the current account deficit stands at more than 5 per cent of GDP and the Rupees is down 12 per cent against the dollar.
The question is: Will the revenue generated by selling off state buildings and adopting lean living measure by the PM makes any difference to the finances of the country? The executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad is reported in media saying that, “the government can save as much as 20 per cent from the existing 221 billion rupees ($ 1.8) billion administrative budget from the spending cuts and others.”
Qasim Suri, Deputy Speaker National Assembly, told TruthTracker that Pakistan has had enough of VIP culture and that nowhere in the world the concept of Red Zone was applicable. He said security did not mean banning any area for the entry of ordinary citizens. He further added that the university made at the PM house premises would raise a generation that would add more feathers into Pakistan cap.
He informed that the PTI government had removed all check posts from Islamabad. Getting emotional Suri added “We will abolish Red Zone. We are not selling these buildings only to generate revenue, but also to remove the distance between the rulers and the ruled. The walls of these palatial mansions are barriers between the voters and their representatives, which must be brought down.”
Former Minister for State for Interior, Talal Chaudhry, from PML-N, agreed with the PTI government’s austerity drive, however, he said there were many government offices established on rental buildings. A wise decision he suggested would be to first move these rental offices to the government-owned places.
Chaudhry said: “The revenue generated from converting state buildings into public entities or hotels would hardly show any impact on the budget. Instead of wasting time on such trivial efforts, the government should think about increasing exports and widening the tax base so that sustainable revenue is generated.”
He termed the austerity drive of the PTI just an eyewash.
Film and TV Director and Producer, Ismail Jaffri, though, is in favour of the PTI’s decision to convert the palatial state buildings into productive places to benefit the public and the treasury both, however, he believes that the federal government should not decide to convert these buildings into a museum or art gallery or hotels in isolation. “Even if the federal government owns the state buildings, it is the right of the local people to decide upon the kind of transformation they would prefer. “I do not support converting PM house into university, instead the building should be used to store database carrying sensitive government and intelligence information,” said Jaffri.
In the light of recent developments and actions of the government, Truth Tracker rules that the fulfilment of the PTI’s promise is underway.