There has been interesting exchange of e-mail between some friends recently on the issue of salary and perks of our National Assembly members. It originated in North America, which shows the interest Pakistani immigrants still take in the national politics. Somebody sent an email to a friend who is a retired civil servant now living in Canada. He forwarded this to friends in Pakistan.
All the figures given by the primary mover of the e-mail were way high than what our representatives are getting. According to this gentleman each MNA gets in terms of salary & perks around Rs 32 million per annum. But MNA Chaudry Aitzaz Ahsan, who is one of the few upright men of the house, hurried to put the record straight. He explained that all an MNA gets in cash as salary and allowances after deduction is Rs 41,500 per month, which comes to Rs 498,000 per annum. He clarified that each MNA has to pay for his accommodation, electricity and phone charges from this package. However, there are some traveling allowances for the parliamentarians for commuting between their constituency to Islamabad for the sessions and the meetings. What he forgot to mention was that each parliamentarian also gets Rs 3750 daily allowance for the days she/he attends the assembly or the senate session. The same allowance is also admissible for the number of days they attend meetings of various committees.
Now the National Assembly and Senate have to meet for at least 120 days 100 days respectively, in a year. Add to this around 30 days, which can be claimed for travelling. So roughly a member of the parliament get another Rs 562,000 annually under the head of daily allowance. This brings the total package to around Rs 1,060,500 per annum and to Rs 88,000 per month. Aitzaz says: “And then you require an MNA to entertain constituents, run a household, bring up and educate kids, meet the costs of his campaign and his office, pay his phone, gas and electricity bills on just this salary” (his figure Rs 41,000). “If I had no income other than the MNA’s salary and emoluments which is a total take-home of Rs. 41,500 per month in this day and age and subject to such inflation in prices, (imagine gas, electricity, fuel, food items bills in at least two establishments of necessity: one at home and one in Islamabad!), I would never contest elections to the Assembly. I might have even left politics altogether.” (Long Para)
At least on this issue both the members of the treasury benches and the opposition have the same feeling for their salaries and perks. They are consistently lambasted by the media and other members of the civil society for asking a raise in their emoluments. In a country where per capita income is just over four grand this criticism is not strange. There was also criticism of US parliamentarians when they raised their salaries, so we are not the only one.
But I think that the political analysts should keep in mind that if they want to build democratic system, they would have to strengthen its support system. If we will not pay our members well then they would be more prone to corruption. To get the right perspective I visited web, the mother of all libraries, and found that most of the legislative members in India and Bangladesh are getting almost similar packages. So there is not much to grudge about. Compared to legislative members of the countries whose democracy we admire, our members are not getting much.
I know some of my friends feel that our members are not doing their job honestly. Many among them are making a lot of money unofficially. But to create the institutions one has to create an enabling environment MQM MNA Kunwar Khalid Younus says: “37 to 40 countries packages, including that of Azad Kashmir, were studied and it was found that all have some kind of pension and health facilities after retirement for the legislative members, while parliamentarians in Pakistan have no such facility.” He thinks that parliamentarians should be adequately paid as they “have a 24 hour job.”
In many countries the parliamentarians are provided staff for preparing speeches and doing their office work. In Pakistan the Rs 10,000 per allowance can only meet the cost of a semi-qualified personal secretary.
The members have the facility of the pool research staff at the National Assembly and the Senate. Senator Nisar Memon says that very few people use this facility. He thinks that both the libraries of senate and national assembly should be merged. Senator is also critical of various non-functional committees of the parliament who are wasting the resources provided by the government.
MNA Kunwar Khalid Younus confided that there is a move to set up a joint library and research facilities for the members with the assistance of USAID. But I am told that most members are not using these research facilities. Former Senator Taj Haider laments that there is no work culture among the members and it is not encouraged. “A simple example,” he gave in support of his observations is that “the parliamentary lodges have everything for comfort but no office table or computers. When I asked for one,” he added, “I was told that it was not in the allocation and then my brother Johar Hussain bought me the office furniture.”
The trouble is that we want the democratic institutions to grow in Pakistan and then at the same time grudge the expenses on them. It’s almost the same dilemma which urban society goes through, when it comes to say eatables, we want them cheap and yet the farmers should be compensated adequately.
The problem of funding the election campaigns and paying the people’s representatives adequately has been usually ignored in the discussion on democracy. The result is that most of the political parties give tickets to persons who can afford the expensive election campaign. What we need is a serious discussion and change in laws of electioneering and representatives’ emolument. The present election expenditure limits are flouted in all cases and once elected our representatives are found to be indulging in unethical practices.
Many year back a corporate leader asked me if a candidate spends Rs 10 million on elections and spends most of his time on politics, how do you expect to do it for the sake of people only? Indeed the world is not that altruistic. The system needs reforms before the 2007 elections.