It has been a while since Ishaq Dar received across-the-board acceptance for his remarks in the House. If anything PML-N’s ‘believers’, in the absence of some serious name-clearing by the ruling party, have been shrinking in parliament. That is why the 22nd amendment was, indeed, landmark. And that is also why nobody disagreed with the finance minister. This was one of those rare occasions where all parties were in agreement. Usually it takes monumental tragedies to end the continuous finger-pointing and get parliamentarians to do something constructive. But now that they have exhibited a shared willingness to sort out the election business, hopefully more quantifiable progress will be made.
The Amendment should also serve as a wake up call for go-it-alone parties bent upon doing the House’s business on the streets. Had all parties put their heads together earlier, this parliamentary novelty would have materialised much earlier; and everybody would have been spared the agony of unsuccessful and misdirected street politics. Nobody needs reminding that a shipshape election commission is central to an undisputed election result. We need not see farther than India to see how an empowered commission can overcome logistical complexities, even nightmares.
Yet pleasant and appreciated as the Amendment is, it does not fail to raise a few important questions; the credentials of the members, for example. Previously the constitution allowed only former judges of the Supreme Court or High Court to become members. The Amendment makes way for retired judges, or on-duty ones, even former bureaucrats and technocrats. But why draw the line there? Why not allow senior, respected members of society membership when their credentials are clean? Also, has anybody proposed a mechanism to check whether members are able to make concessions, when needed, for their institutions, etc? Therefore, while senior ministers are justified in giving themselves a pat on the back, they must still be mindful of potential loopholes that can lead to unpleasant bottlenecks later.
The cost of maintaining the MPs
Is it worth it?
The Parliamentarians on Thursday proposed an exponential increase in their salaries, allowances, and perks. If the measure is passed this would overnight raise an MP’s salary from the present PKR 35,000 to PKR 200,000, increase his transport allowance from PKR 7,000 to PKR 50,000 and office maintenance allowance from PKR 7,000 to PKR 100,000. New allowances proposed include constituency allowance (PKR 70,000) and utility allowance (PKR 50,000)
It would be interesting to compare what Indian MPs get with what their Pakistani counterparts demand. While Pakistani legislators demand a total package of PKR 470,000 per month an Indian MP gets a total fixed amount of PKR 140,000 per month. An Indian MP also gets a fixed yearly medical alliance of PKR 40,000 while in the case of a Pakistani MP it has no maximum limit. What is the justification for the rise in pay and perks when Pakistan’s economy is in a bad shape compared to India.
Few would claim that the MPs in Pakistan perform better than Indian MPs. The members of the National Assembly are known for frequently dodging the sittings causing lack of quorum and postponement of proceedings. Among other factors this too is responsible for the paucity of legislation and a reliance on Ordinances. There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis before a move is made for the enhancement of pay and allowances at this scale. In case the beleaguered PML-N government was to yield to the demand it would bring good name neither to itself nor the House that passes it. Hours before it would seize to be in March 2013, the Sindh Assembly had passed a similar bill providing fantastic salary rises to its members with retrospective effect and lifetime perks for the ministers. The next day the Supreme Court had suspended the notification. There is a need to rationalise the MPs demands. PML-N government must do nothing that provides opportunity to other institutions to intervene.