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May 26, 2016

Are we not in a state of war?


May 26, 2016

Pakistan’s parliamentarians have, in a quick move, proposed and adopted a motion in the National Assembly – calling for an exponential increase in their salaries, perks and privileges. The move, aimed at bringing parliamentarians’ wages at par with grade 22 officers, recommends a 400-times raise on the current salaries they are withdrawing from the national exchequer.

The set of recommendations presented by Acting Chairman of the Standing Committee on Rules of Procedures and Privileges Chaudhry Mehmood Bashir Virk propose a monthly salary of Rs200,000 with transport allowance of Rs50,000, utilities of Rs50,000, office maintenance of Rs100,000 and constituency expenses Rs70,000 that amounts to Rs470,000 in total.

The proposal also includes Rs300,000 as yearly allowance for travel in encashed vouchers in lieu of 30 business-class return plane tickets a year. These tickets can also be used by family members. The proposal recommends Rs300,000 as IT allowances to be spent on installation of computers and other IT-related equipment during a parliamentarian’s tenure in office. Currently, the allowance stands at Rs10,000.

The proposed salaries for the speaker of the National Assembly and chairman of Senate are Rs400,000 and Rs350,000 respectively. And medical allowance for lawmakers is provided on an admissible basis and has no specified cap.

The adopted motion that was forwarded to the NA House Business Committee, if recommended, has to sail through the finance division and then the Ministry of Finance for the changes to be adopted in the upcoming budget for parliament.

Chaudhry Mehmood Bashir Virk, who is part of the subcommittee, has argued that improving the financial status of parliamentarians is important for the proper and more effective execution of public duty. He says it is a misconception that MNA and senators are corrupt adding that parliamentarians should be given their legal rights in order to end corruption.

These valued remarks from the honourable parliamentarian simply mean that if parliamentarians are denied theses perks and privileges, they would indulge in corrupt practices to maintain their social status. The demand for a hefty pay rise has come at a time when the government is already battling for regaining its credibility in the aftermath of the Panama Papers.

Parliament already places a burden of Rs4.7 billion on the country’s revenue account. Will this massive increase in the parliamentarians’ salaries help us promote and implement the austerity agenda that the ruling party promised to follow during its election campaigns? While finalising recommendations for the proposed massive increase in parliamentarians’ salaries a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures referred to a protocol the interior ministry had notified on July 6, 1970 that “Members of the Senate/ Members of the National Assembly [are] to take precedence over all others in the said group”.

Our parliamentarians are sharp enough to refer to years-old constitutional documents when it comes to their personal gains. They, however, should also remember that their country has been in a state of war for more than a decade now. We are still mourning the death of 70,000 precious countrymen. Our material damages have gone over $107 billion. A huge number of IDPs who are languishing in camps are still waiting to go home in the hope of a better tomorrow. Have we ever thought of sharing the miseries they are faced with? Have we ever asked them how they spend days in the scorching heat of the summer and the harsh cold of the freezing winter under the open sky in their tented houses?

Why do we forget that forty percent of the people in the country are living below the poverty line with incomes less than two dollars a day? Have we ever thought of the poor labourers who commit suicide when they fail to feed their families?

Our legislators have hardly been seen to be this quick in framing laws for the millions of out-of-school children who are forced into bonded labour. A motion pertaining to their own perks and privileges took them no seconds to propose. On the other hand, the Child Protection (Criminal Laws) Amendment Bill has in the pipeline for the last almost 10 years but we still have to wait and see how it moves forward. If the increase in perks and privileges is to be given to the parliamentarians for the great job they are doing on the legislative front, then what about those honourable parliamentarians who stay mum year after year with hardly a word to say on the floor of the august House?

Although a nuclear state, Pakistan sees its citizens almost every day on the roads protesting the hours-long unannounced and unscheduled loadshedding. A major section of society has still no access to the clean drinking water facility. A study conducted by the National Nutrition Survey (NNS 2011) reveals that 40 percent of the children of the country are malnourished. The study also noted that 49 percent of women in Pakistan are iron deficient.

And media reports suggests over 350 children have died in the drought-hit Tharparkar district of the Sindh province during the current year. The deaths are, obviously, occurring because of the non-availability of balanced diet and other infrastructure.

With this sorry state of affairs can we afford the luxury of this untimely hefty rise in the perks and privileges of the already privileged and elite class that makes our parliament? Tired and sick of the constant state of war, the people of Pakistan are desperately looking towards its leaders to help them out of this crisis and guide them towards a better destination. And this is possible only when the leaders subordinates their personal interest to the national and public interest.

The people expect their leaders to steer the ship of this misguided nation into the right direction. They want their leaders to lead them with a clear-cut vision, principled stand and clarity of purpose and cause – that do not serve the leaders but the followers who make up this country.

The writer heads an independent research organisation in Islamabad. Email: [email protected]



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