Of Perks and Privileges

Spearhead Opinion – 15.03.2019

By Farrukh Karamat
Senior Research Coordinator, Spearhead Research

Through a swift unanimous agreement, the Punjab Parliamentarians pushed through the now controversial Bill for increasing their salaries, perks and privileges. This came on the heels of the US$1 Billion deposit placed by the Government of UAE with the Government of Pakistan. For a government besieged by rising fiscal and current account deficits and scrambling to manage the economic situation through obtaining loans and deposits from ‘Friendly’ nations, this was indeed a surprise move for all quarters. For the people already burdened by rising inflation, higher interest rates, higher utility charges and low levels of business and economic activity, this was indeed a slap in the face. The media has gone berserk trying to make sense of the whole situation.

As per DAWN the breakup of a lawmaker’s proposed average monthly allowance is as follows:

  • Salary: Rs.200,000
  • Transport: Rs.50,000
  • Utilities: Rs.50,000
  • Constituency: Rs.70,000
  • Office maintenance: Rs.100,000
  • Total minimum monthly allowance: Rs.470,000
  • Yearly allowance for travel: Rs.300,000 (in encashed vouchers in lieu of 30 business class return plane tickets. Variable allowance not accounted for.)
  • IT allowance: Rs.300,000 (for use over a parliamentarian’s tenure.)

Note: Medical allowance has no cap

Some PTI Ministers were quick to speak in favour of the increase, till the Prime Minister expressed his displeasure and requested the Governor Punjab not to sign the Bill. This led to a rapid U-turn by the same Ministers as they started to question the Bill. It is not a question of raising the salaries and perks of the Parliamentarians, it is a matter of the way in which the whole process was mismanaged, with a lot of controversial aspects. For example, the Chief Minister being provide a 2,500 cc Bullet proof vehicle, House, and security plus his last salary and perks for life is a totally unreasonable clause that should never have been approved. Perhaps it is time that Imran Khan acknowledges his folly in the appointment of the Punjab Chief Minister and works towards installing a person who is actually worthy of that slot.

There is a lot that needs to be addressed in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the perks and privileges of the Parliamentarians should definitely not have been a priority. The economy and the industrial sector needs to be jump stared; the much-needed economic direction needs to be charted out; and the culture of condemnation and persecution needs to be managed and shunned. If Mian Mansha was called by the National Accountability Court over a decade old investigation, why was the information leaked to the media and why is such a big deal being made out of it. There should be discretion in handling such cases.

The Pakistan Banao Certificates have at best received a lukewarm response on the back of Pakistan being rated in the Speculative category by the leading global rating agencies. The inflow form the friendly countries is almost complete. It is time to acknowledge the real problems and finalize the much-needed International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout. Instead the rumours are that the Government is contemplating another Amnesty Scheme to try and generate additional funds. The businesses and existing tax-payers are being hounded by the Tax authorities and additional penalties and taxes are being extorted from them, bordering on black-mailing tactics. Wealth creation is being made out to be a cardinal sin.

At the same time the Prime Minister has stated that the FBR cannot be reorganized and has hinted at creating a new tax authority. He has categorically stated that wealth creation should be encouraged and that the existing tax payers should not be hounded and the focus should be on expanding the tax base. He is trying to open up Pakistan to foreign investment through a revamped visa regime and improved business environment. He is also on record having stated that he will pursue those who have been involved in corruption. The problem is that the objectives of the Prime Minister appear to be at odds with the existing bureaucracy and are being hindered by the bureaucratic machinery, which now appears to be creating hurdles in the smooth functioning of the Government. 

Nawaz Sharif and his medical condition has been lingering on for weeks, with no end in sight with extensive news coverage and millions being spent on his prison sentence and court appearances. No other convicted criminal has been accorded such perks and privileges. This is no time to waste on frivolous activities and creating media visibility. It is a time to act in a positive manner on focused priorities to improve the Nation. For now, the priorities appear to be skewed, if at all there are any priorities for improvement. Misguided projects and policies, ill-conceived plans, lack of vision, and feigning ignorance is common place. In every facet there is decadence and decay borne of neglect, spurred by personal greed and an inherent desire for personal gain at the cost of the society.

It is time that we move out of the illusionary world of made up problems and face up to the real challenges facing Pakistan. There is a dire need to manage the economy and put it on the path of recovery and growth to sustain the rapidly rising ill-equipped population. The competence levels need to be enhanced across the Board and the Nation disciplined to work with pride for the betterment of Pakistan. Pursuing a Dam Fund is a noble cause but the donations will not build a Dam – structured project financing is required and that is that path that needs to be pursued instead of praising the Rs.10 Billion collected so far. The culture of persecution in the absence of a fair trial has to be stopped and the parallel economy has to be inducted into the mainstream for a positive contribution. There has to be a clear direction for growth and managing the economy and scrambling from friendly countries, to Pakistan Banao Certificates, to another potential Amnesty scheme is no long-term solution. We need structural reforms with a managed financial package and that should be the focus of the Government. Time to stop wasting time on the frivolous and illusionary problems and face up to the real challenges, beyond personal perks and privileges.