The initiative to reform government sector salaries and end disparities among various departments has been in cold storage
peaking on the parliament’s floor, Mushahidullah Khan, the later senator, had once called for developing a well-structured, transparent and just system of salaries and pensions for the government employees.
Soon after taking power in 2018, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had also formed a commission to overhaul government employees’ salaries and do away with ‘glaring’ disparities.
There is an even greater realisation today at the top echelon of the government for the much-needed rationalisation of salary structure at the federal and provincial levels.
As things stand, a provincial government officer in BPS-17, working at the Punjab Secretariat for example, draws twice the salary being paid to a BPS-18 or 19 officer belonging to an Audit and Accounts, IRS, Postal Service, Railways, Commerce and Trade office. Even a section officer, working at a provincial secretariat, gets more salary at the start of his career than a BPS-18/ 19 officer.
Most recently, there has been news about ‘under-compulsion-leave’ requests by IRS officers as they could not make both ends meet within their existing salaries. Though many others in the civil service face the same dire situation, they prefer to avoid taking such drastic steps. A transparent system for increasing and rationalising salaries across the board has been the recurrent demand of government employees serving in various departments.
In such circumstances, the news of 100 percent raises under the garb of special allowances in the salary packages of a few officers at federal and provincial level has aggravated the situation.
The cherry-picking approach has resulted in a culture of ‘economic classes’ across the federal and provincial departments. This disparity and administrative salary-centric polarisation is more visible today than ever before.
There are many compelling reasons to reform the salary structure for 3.4 million government employees, including minimising the financial stress on the heavily-taxed common man who pays 60 percent of all taxes.
The last Pay and Pension Commission was constituted on April 16, 2020. It was asked make recommendations to put an end to the decades-old issues related to pays and pensions of federal and provincial governments’ employees. On November 12, 2021, after the passage of one and half year, another notification was issued to “strengthen” the Pay and Pension Commission 2020 and eight private members were added to the commission. The ex-officio members included the finance secretary, the establishment secretary, the defence secretary, and the secretaries of Finance Departments of the Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. The last notification, issued on June 3, 2022, extended the date of submission of its report to June 30, 2022. Since then nothing has been heard from the commission.
Sources close to the developments claim that the commission had proposed restructuring of the salaries of government employees and introducing a uniform pay system by eliminating the difference in salaries of employees in various departments. However, no concrete, result-oriented policy decision has come about.
The final report of the commission has not been made public. As government employees are paid salaries from the taxpayers’ money, so the taxpayers have every right to know how, why and where their taxes are being spent.
A country perennially in financial dire straits needs to rely more on internal reforms than injections of loans and aids. India, our next-door neighbour, has sought a loan from the IMF only once during the last 75 years while Pakistan appears to be permanently reliant on international donors since 1958.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan, the country has received $26 billion in loans from the IMF since 1958. The country has many compelling reasons to reform its salary payment structure for its 3.4 million government employees, to reduce the financial stress for the already heavily-taxed common man who pays 60 percent of all taxes. The mounting taxes are eating into people’s savings like a monster. “I am in favour of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible, because I believe that the big problem is not taxes, the big problem is spending,” says Milton Friedman.
The proposed unified pay structure is one of the many components of reforms of Pay and Pension Commission and Civil Service Reform that could have put the administrative machinery on the right track. However, any proposed reform owes its success to political governance. “Political governance reform needs to focus on eliminating the culture of neo-patrimonialism and politics of kinship and patronage which frustrate any move towards modernism,” writes Abdul Wajid Rana, a former federal secretary, in his research paper titled Civil Service Reforms in Pakistan. Pakistan has witnessed a host of reforms that remained confined to a few organisations, thus excluding the other administrative structures. This approach has led to a lopsided bureaucratic structure. All-inclusive reforms are imperative to accomplish long-term goals.
The writer is a civil servant