Exuberant amount spent on running missions abroad
By Khawar Ghumman | 5/13/2015

ISLAMABAD: Running the country`s 120 missions abroad has cost the federal government over Rs47 billion. In contradiction with the austerity measures the current government claims to have adopted, it spent nearly Rs1 million more in its first financial year (2013-2014) than the PPP government, in its last year (20122013) in maintaining the country`s embassies and high commissions abroad.

Soon after he took charge in June 2013, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that unnecessary expenditures of all government departments would be cut.

Similarly, the prime minister`s special assistant on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi, and Sartaj Aziz, adviser on national security and foreign office, had said they were proactively working on cutting the annual budget of the Foreign Office. However, a steady increase in the overall spending on diplomatic missions from 2009 to 2014 can be observed in the official documents.

During the financial year 20092010, the total expenditure under the said head stood at Rs8.205 billion followed by Rs8.351 billion in 2010-11, Rs9.437 billion in 20112012, Rs10.447 billion in 2012-13 and R s11.115 billion in 2013-14.

According to the documents, throughout this time, the highest amount spent on operations was at Pakistan`s embassy in Washington DC and the mission at the United Nations. During 2013-14, Pakistan embassy in Washington spent Rs532.415 million followed by UN mission which spent Rs415.468 million. Also in the list of top five foreign missions receiving hefty budgets during the first financial year of the present government were London which received Rs405.099 million, Geneva receiving Rs362.385 million and New Delhi, where the country`s diplomatic mission spent R s317.973 million.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Pakistani embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan which received the smallest budget during 2013-14 of Rs28.214 million.

Among the missions spending the least amount of money were the missions in Dakar (Senegal) which had the second smallest budget at Rs32.9 million followed by Morocco at Rs36.4 million, North Korea at Rs38.93 million and Myanmar, where the government only spent Rs41 million.

An official of the Foreign Office said the expenditure was based on the importance of the station, reflecting the role of the respective country in world politics as well as the number of Pakistani expatriates. However, the official agreed, there was dire need for rationalisation of annual budgetary allocations for the country`s foreign missions.

For example he said there were many countries, where, instead of maintaining full-fledged missions, a small number of staff members could serve the purpose. He added, in Abuja (Nigeria), during 2013-14, the government had to spent Rs63 million on its mission.

In the diplomatic world, he further said, it was a common practice for countries to run joint diplomatic missions through mutual agreements.

`There are also cases where one ambassador could be asked to perform diplomatic duties in more than one country,` he said.

Last year, the cabinet committee on restructuring headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar decided to reduce all non-developmental expenditures by 30 per cent in various government departments including foreign missions.

Reportedly, the government had set a target to save Rs40 billion during the current financial year by reducing the operational expenses of various ministries.

Published in Dawn