As the country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, Parliamentary Affair Adviser Dr. Babar Awan on Friday presented a bill in the Senate seeking free air travel privilege extended to parliamentarians’ families. Experts believe that from a political standpoint, such a move in the current circumstances may be viewed as insensitive expression costing a heavy price.
One of the worst Parliament and parliamentarian in the history of Pakistan, how dare they can even think of presenting such bill when people are jobless, food-less and battling with covid-19https://t.co/QztBYjDxgx
— Khalid Saifuddin (@KhalidSaifuddin) June 6, 2020
The Members of Parliament (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 aims at “ensuring the utility of 25 air tickets to the parliamentarians for their family members, sans any burden on the exchequer”.
It points out that under the existing legislation, 25 business class open return air tickets for parliamentarians could be substituted with travel vouchers of the equal amount — Rs300,000.
“The unutilized air tickets and vouchers for the financial year 2019-20 will remain acceptable till their utilization up to June 30, 2020,” it read.
The bill’s statement of objectives and reasons read that Section 10 of the existing act regulates free travel privilege of the MPs, who were entitled to 25 business class open return air tickets from the airport nearest to their constituencies to Islamabad each year.
“There has been persistent demand by the MPs to extend the utility of the 25 air tickets to their family members as well. The National Assembly Standing on Rules of Procedure has recommended accordingly,” it read.
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“Therefore, vouchers of equal value in lieu of admissible 25 business class open return air tickets are proposed to be issued to the MPs that may be utilized by their family members as well.”
Under Section 10, every MP would be provided during vouchers worth Rs300,000 annually that would enable them to travel within the country by air or by rail at any time without payment of fare.
Free air travel privilege extended to parliamentarians’ families: an increase in salaries?
In February this year, the upper house of parliament had rejected a bill seeking an increase in the salaries of lawmakers after the majority of the members belong to both opposition and government termed it “inappropriate” owing to the economic slowdown in the country.
The draft Salaries and Allowances Amendment Bill, tabled by Senator Naseebullah Bazai, called for an increase in the monthly payment of the Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker from Rs225,000 to Rs879,000 to match the salaries of Supreme Court judges.
It is important to recall that the Punjab Assembly unanimously passed a bill which increased the salaries of the chief minister, speaker, deputy speaker, MNAs and MPAs to an incredible extent. According to the bill, the speaker’s monthly salary was increased from Rs37,000 to Rs200,000, while his deputy would receive Rs185,000 instead of Rs35,000. The MPAs, who used to earn Rs18,000, would earn Rs80,000 every month. CM Buzdar’s own salary was increased by Rs59,000.
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Forget about the idea of free air travel privilege extended to parliamentarians’ families, Prime Minister Imran Khan not only advised the provincial assembly to take back their demand but also conveyed his displeasure to the Chief Minister.
How to determine the lawmakers’ salaries?
As a matter of fact, in both Pakistan and India, there is no transparent and independent watchdog to monitor the salaries of lawmakers. In India, the Supreme Court recently termed the question of who has the authority to increase lawmakers’ salaries as a ‘moral and ethical’ issue.
Sanjay Kumar, Professor and Director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), and Souradeep Banerjee, a researcher with Lokniti, a research program of CSDS, wrote an article in 2017 and offered a comparative analysis of the lawmakers’ salaries across the world.
They identified that in Canada, a multiparty parliamentary committee called the Board of Internal Economy enjoys the right to revise salaries of MPs. In other advanced democracies such as the U.K. and Australia, the salaries of MPs are decided by an autonomous body called the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the Remuneration Tribunal (set up by the Remuneration Tribunal Act, 1973), respectively. In a young democracy such as South Africa, salaries of lawmakers are decided by an autonomous body called the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers whose recommendations are subject to the final approval of the President. A newborn democracy like Bhutan also follows a similar practice according to which salaries are determined by an independent body.
In terms of how salaries are determined, Singapore provides a good case: salaries of lawmakers are decided by the Public Service Division located in the Prime Minister’s Office; the salaries are determined by a benchmark which is pegged to 60 percent of the median income of the top 1,000 Singapore citizen earners. Adhering to this formula, salaries of the MPs are pegged at 17.5 percent of the above-mentioned benchmark. Many other countries follow this practice. In both France and Japan, salaries of parliamentarians are decided in relation to the salaries of the highest-paid bureaucrats. Even in the U.S. Congress, salaries of senators are usually revised on an annual basis as part of an automatic adjustment process which reflects an increase in living cost.
Analysts believe that the government should formulate a detailed policy in order to impartially determine the salaries of the lawmakers, and the idea of free air travel privilege extended to parliamentarians’ families must completely be discarded.