Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has sought an explanation from the Religious Affairs Ministry, an aide said Tuesday, over a report claiming that a list of 200 ministry officials has been finalised for Haj this year – dozens of whom staff the office of Religious Affairs Minister Mufti Abdul Shakur. The report, published in a newspaper, said that 35 people on the list are from Shakur’s office alone, which includes five drivers, four gunmen, a cook and 11 personal secretaries and assistants. The report said the minister himself would also be performing Haj this year. The report quoted a ministry spokesperson as saying that the staff of the ministry goes every year to help pilgrims during Haj. “Staff like drivers and gunmen are tagged along for help in works such as carrying luggage, etc,” the spokesperson said per the report. It also said the trip for 200 individuals would cost “Rs170 million” of the taxpayer’s money. News of this triggered criticism from some journalists and political commentators, as well as a PTI leader, who highlighted the cost of the move when the government is seeking to introduce austerity measures during an economic crisis. Lawyer and columnist Abdul Moiz Jafrii said he gets the “lack of respect for public money, but I struggle to understand what these people think of God and how they feel this would acceptable to him”. Uzair Younus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, urged the government to “read the room”. PTI’s Andaleeb Abbas lamented the Haj was being conducted “awaam ke paison se (with the nation’s money)”.Journalist Zebunnisa Burki said: “Oh look. ‘Austerity’. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Digital Media, Abubakar Umer said that the premier has sought an explanation over this. “The prime minister of Pakistan has sought an explanation from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It is a usual practice to send some staff of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to serve the pilgrims, but this report gives a different impression, for which an explanation has been sought,” said Umer in a tweet.