ISLAMABAD: An RTI request has unearthed that civil and military pensioners living abroad are receiving their pensions in foreign currency. There are as many as 164 pensioners, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), who live abroad and receive their pensions in currency other than the rupee. This is in contrast with the reported concerns of retired government servants living in Pakistan who have been complaining of the non-payment of pensions -- which they receive in rupees.
The issue would have remained under the radar had it not been for RTI activist Naeem Sadiq struggling to obtain details of this issue after finding out about it. He had initially heard about this through an acquaintance, who had told him about a retired squadron leader living abroad but receiving a pension from Pakistan in dollars.
Sadiq then filed an RTI request to the Pakistan Air Force under the Right of Access to Information Act (2017), inquiring about the number of retired PAF officers living abroad and receiving pensions in foreign currency; he didn’t ask for their names, The information however was not shared. Then he knocked at the door of MoFA, inquiring how many pension cases of such individuals are processed through it.
MoFA too was reluctant to share the details and instead advised Naeem Sadiq to check with the accountant general of Pakistan (AGPR). The AGPR also declined to provide the requested information. Sadiq then approached the Pakistan Information Commission, the appellant body you turn to when such departments refuse information. The commission was not helpful either. Both pattern and history suggest that the current lot of commissioners at the PIC are more accommodating towards the government than the citizens who lodge complaints.This is when Naeem Sadiq decided to move the Islamabad High Court. The Pakistan Information Commission, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Accountant General of Pakistan were made parties to the case. When the court served notice to the respondents to provide an explanation for refusing to furnish the requested information, MoFA agreed to share details with the complainant. This is how MoFA replied to the court’s notice for explanation: “There are a total of 164 civil and military Pakistani government pensioners, residing abroad, who are every month paid pension in foreign exchange, sent from Pakistan. That the yearly burden of this select few government pensioners is Rs200 million (paid in foreign exchange).” Using this information, Sadiq wrote to both MoFA and the AGPR, terming this practice as a violation of Article 25 of the constitution, which says that “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”.Naeem Sadiq further wrote that by providing this favour, the above-mentioned two departments are not only violating Article 25 but also harming the interests of Pakistan. Sadiq wrote: “The payment of pensions in forex to a chosen few deprives Pakistan of its critical and deficient resource ie foreign exchange. This is a country that had to sell its self-respect and compromise its sovereignty to beg for every single dollar. How come when Pakistan fights its battle for financial survival, you decide to provide special indulgence to an elite group of 164 individuals. This must come to an immediate end and all pensions of all retired government officials be paid in Pakistani rupees only”.It may be noted that for the past few years, the media has on different occasions reported that Pakistan’s diplomatic staff abroad have had to wait for months for their salaries to be disbursed -- apparently due to shortage of dollars. Not only that, the media has also been reporting about pensioners of different departments who have on occasion not been paid on a monthly basis due to shortage of funds.
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