By Syed M. Aslam
Nov 24 - Dec 07, 2003 



No one can accuse the parliamentarians of doing nothing during their first year in the office. They did manage to get a hefty raise in their salaries perks excluded just before the finishing of the first year, the better period of which was spent in name-calling, protests and walkouts with little legislation to show.

The decision to increase the salaries of the parliamentarians was announced by Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali early this month. Announcing the decision taken overnight he said that the parliamentarian's salary has been increased to a level where it exceeds the salary of a federal secretary by Rs 1,000 to over Rs 38,000 per month excluding the allowances and the facilities.

The hefty increase in the salary of the parliamentarians came at time when their performance, or rather the lack of it, was drawing acute criticism and the prime minister himself had said that he was not satisfied, the performance of the National Assembly. That, however, did not desist him from having a heartfelt understanding about the financial woes of his fellow parliamentarians.

The alacrity with which the Prime Minister decided to approve the hefty increase hardly surprise anyone in this country because it is customary for the powers to be to establish a committee that takes years to present its findings if and when the salary increase is for the public servants. The implementation of the findings justifying increases in the salary, no matter how valid they arealmost certainly takes the seconding of yet another committee. The parliamentarians being the representatives of these working classes, however, deserve better treatment than meted out to their subjects and that explains the alacrity with which they were given the heft increases by the special directive of the prime minister himself. This week the prime minister directed the relevant ministries to ensure that the arrears of the salary, affective July 1 this year, and the allowances were paid to the parliamentarians before the Eid.

So just how much parliamentarians would cost the poor exchequers now? Only a crude estimate can be made. The allowances of the parliamentarins have been increased by up to 200 per cent and besides the fixed allowances they would also receive additional allowances now. For instance, they would now receive Rs 800 daily allowance and Rs 750 coveyance and Rs 2,000 housing allowance daily. The housing allowance thus would cost the exchequers Rs 60,000 a month alone. Previously the salary plus allowances of the parliamentarians totaled Rs 17,500 per month but now the salary alone would be Rs 38,000 and cumulative allowances would cost the exchequers many times that amount now.

The parliamentarians would also receive Rs 8,000 a month for the repair of their offices and Rs 10,000 per month for the telephone bills. They would also receive travel vouchers worth Rs 100,000 a year and any parliamentarians not wishing to take the vouchers would be paid Rs 60,000 in cash. Needless to say, the parliamentarians would be enjoying a Eid with strong fervor being hundreds of thousands of rupees richer thanks to the hefty increases in salary and allowances and the accumulated arrears since July this year.



A parliamentarian would be costing the exchequers around Rs 200,000 a month now including the salary and other allowances the top being accommodation, travel, medical treatment, etc., etc. Who says that we are a poor nation with a low per capital annual income of around $ 400? While that is true the voters of this country does know how to pamper their elected representatives even if they do not work.

According to a white-paper released by the chief coordinator of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Group), Ahsan Iqbal, the performance of the sitting parliament has been the worst ever. "The Assembly was not able to pass just two laws in its last session which lasted for 84 days, way below the minimum 120 days required despite resorting to extra ordinary long sessions at the close of the year [ended this month]. During the first year of the Nawaz Sharif government the assembly legislated 47 laws while during the first and second year of the Benazir government 13 and 33 laws were legislated respectively and during the first year of the Junego government 23 laws were passed."

On the other hand, the ruling coalition government blamed the rowdy opposition for the lack of legislation. According to the fact sheet released by it between November 16 last year and November 11 this year a total of 10 sessions were held in the National Assembly of which the opposition boycotted a total of 49 sittings. "In addition, the opposition thumped the desks for 65 hours, a global record."

The decision to increase the salary and allowances of the parliamentarians came just days prior to the publishing of the details of the assets published by the Election Commission of Pakistan which showed that the majority of the parliamentarians are multi-millionaires, and many of them billionaires, despite allegedly evaluating the value of their real estate and assets way below the going market prices. Assets declared by them also showed that many of them were really 'poor' because despite being worth millions, and in many cases billions, they were in debt that exceeded the entire value of their assets. Perhaps, the salary increased to the millionaire parliamentarians were well deserved to make their otherwise miserable lives a bit more comfortable.