The Pakistan government has banned first-class travel by leaders and discretionary funds of the prime minister, federal ministers, and members of the National Assembly as part of its austerity drive, Dawn reported on Saturday. The decision was taken on Friday at a Cabinet meeting presided by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The decision was announced five days after Khan banned all non-essential foreign tours by his ministers and senior bureaucrats.

The president, prime minister, chief justice, Senate chairman, speaker of the National Assembly and chief ministers will now have to travel business class in international flights, said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry. These top constitutional officials used to travel in first class before.

Imran Khan will also travel business class and will not use a special plane for foreign tours. “For domestic travelling, the protocol [use of special plane by the PM] will not be changed,” The Express Tribune quoted Chaudhry as saying.

Chaudhry said Parliament would have to approve the release of the prime minister’s discretionary funds. He claimed that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had used his discretionary powers to spend government funds worth Rs 51 billion in a single year. Of this, Sharif gave Rs 30 billion to members of the National Assembly and the rest was spent on several other occasions, Chaudhry alleged.

“That was taxpayers’ money which was lavishly used by the ex-prime minister,” Dawn quoted Chaudhry as saying. “Now the incumbent prime minister has ordered that he and any other government functionary will not spend even a single penny in the name of discretionary funds.”

The Cabinet also decided to conduct an audit of all the major transport projects that the last government had approved in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. However, it rejected a proposal to implement a six-day working week.

Austerity programme

In his first address to the nation after being sworn in, Imran Khan talked about Pakistan’s challenges on the economic front, promised sweeping reforms to implement austerity and revive a stagnant economy. He highlighted the country’s debt burden. “Never in Pakistan’s history have we faced such difficult economic circumstances,” he said. “Our debt burden is now at Rs 28 trillion. We haven’t been as indebted in our entire history as we have become in the last ten years.”

Khan announced that he would cut down on his expenses as well as that of the government by reducing the number of staff employed by the prime minister’s office. “I will be staying in a three-bedroom house that served as the military secretary’s house,” he said. “I will have to keep two of the cars because my intelligence agencies tell me my life is under threat.”

The rest of the bullet-proof cars will be auctioned off and the proceeds deposited in the state treasury, he added.