- How the people’s ‘khadims’ help themselves
The government and the opposition may have their horns locked in the parliament but whenever a bill is tabled enhancing their perks, however surreptitiously; it is immediately passed without debate or discussion. On 31 May 2018, PML-N government completed its tenure of five years, however, furtively, just a few hours before the departure of government; the national exchequer was mercilessly put under severe burden by announcing undue and unjustified perks and privileges to outgoing parliamentarians and their families. Federal government enhanced perks and privileges of sitting and former parliamentarians and their spouses by amending the two general laws through the Finance Act 2018.
The acting president, Sadiq Sanjrani, gave his consent to the Finance Act 2018 that includes amendments in Members of Parliament (Salaries and Allowances) Act 1974 and Chairman and Speaker (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) Act 1975. Both these laws have been separately passed by the National Assembly and the Senate and do not fall in the Money Bill definition.
However, the Finance Act 2018 revealed that the government had inserted these amendments in the Finance Act at the eleventh hour, as changes in both the laws were not even part of the final Finance Bill that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had tabled in the National Assembly a week earlier.
All these additional perks and allowances were never debated at any stage of budget scrutiny either in the Senate Standing Committee of Finance or in the National Assembly. Salaries and allowances of the members of parliament, Senate chairman and speaker National Assembly are governed by these two laws.
Through an amendment in the Members of Parliament Act of 1974, the government has extended the free air travel by the parliamentarians to all the Pakistani airlines. Earlier, the parliamentarians’ entitlement was limited to only Pakistan International Airlines.
A country like Pakistan, which is reeling under foreign debt to the tune of ninety billion US dollars, has its parliamentarians unabashedly enhancing their perks and privileges
Each member of the parliament is entitled to avail up to Rs300,000 worth of free air travel within Pakistan. Through another amendment, the government has enhanced the business class travel for attending the assembly sessions from 20 trips to 25 trips from and to Islamabad from anywhere in the country. This is in addition to Rs300,000 air travel.
A member and ex-member shall be entitled to the same medical facilities as are admissible to an officer of BPS-22 of the federal government, according to the new amendment.
There are 342 members of the National Assembly and 104 members of the Senate in addition to hundreds of former parliamentarians and their spouses.
Moreover, the government has also allowed the former parliamentarians and their spouses to retain “the gratis official (blue) passport”, which will make them entitled to VVIP treatment anywhere in Pakistan and in the world at the expense of the taxpayers.
Not only that, the government has doubled the monthly honorarium of the chairmen of the standing committees from Rs12,700 to Rs25,000 per month. This is in addition to their monthly salaries and other perks and privileges.
A member elected as the chairman of a standing committee of a house shall, in addition to the salary, allowances and facilities admissible as a member will now be entitled to Rs 25,000 honorarium, the services of a private secretary in basic pay scale-17, stenographer in basic pay scale 15, driver in basic pay scale-4 and one Naib Qasid in basic pay scale 1, telephone facility in the office to a limit of Rs10,000 per month and office accommodation with necessary furniture and equipment.
The acting president has also approved an amendment in the Chairman and Speaker (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) Act, 1975, making the deputy speaker eligible for all the perks and privileges that are currently available to the Speaker.
“In section 18, after the word “Speaker”, the words “including a person who has held such office after election thereto”, shall be inserted,” said the new amendment.
In March this year, the government had already increased the daily allowance of parliamentarians by 71pc in a bid to match it with that given to civil servants in the country. Accordingly, the ordinary and special daily allowance were increased from Rs1,750 to Rs3,000 and from Rs2,800 to Rs4,800 respectively, which is equal to the allowance offered to grade-22 officers of the federal government.
A country like Pakistan, which is reeling under foreign debt to the tune of ninety billion US dollars, has its parliamentarians unabashedly enhancing their perks and privileges. So much so that future generations of Pakistan will have to pay through their nose to service these debts.
Instead of tightening their belts and opting for austerity, the outgoing parliamentarians sought to award themselves and their retired colleagues.
Parliamentarians are the elected representatives of the people. They earn a place at the citadels of power at the will of the people to solve the problems the country is facing. One of the most pressing problems facing Pakistan is a dwindling economy. Instead of shoring up the economy, devising ways to stem the rot, where the rupee has fallen to unprecedented low of 125 vis-à-vis the US dollar, the parliamentarians remain oblivious to the woes of the masses.
They should be reminded of the time Omar was the Caliph, It was noon of a Friday. The faithful at Medina had gathered in the Prophet’s mosque to offer the Friday prayers. Caliph Omar arrived to lead the prayers. As soon as he proceeded to deliver the Friday sermon, a young man from the congregation stood up to say, “We will not listen to you, until you give us the explanation that you owe to us.”
The people were startled at this audacious interference. Omar paused for a moment, and then turning to the young man said, “Explanation for what?”
The young man said “The other day each one of us obtained a piece of cloth from the Baitul Mal. Today I find two pieces of cloth on the person of the Caliph. I want to know what right had the Caliph to get a share twice the share of an ordinary Muslim.”
Before Omar could explain, Abdullah his son rose up and said, “Friends, the truth of the matter is that like every other person my father and myself obtained a piece of cloth each from the Baitul Mal. My father is so tall that the piece of cloth that he got from the Baitul Mal did not suffice him. So I gave him my piece of the cloth”. This explanation satisfied every one. The young man who had interrupted the Caliph said, “We are satisfied. You can now proceed with your address. We will listen to you and, obey your commands.”
Turning to the audience Omar said, “What will you do, my friends, in case I deviate from the truth one day?”
Thereupon a man rose up and said, “When you willfully deviate from the truth, we will withdraw our allegiance to you and I for one would feel it my duty to kill you with my sword.” Such is the relationship between the rulers and the masses, introduced by our forbearers but instead of emulating them, we chose to ignore them at our peril.