(By Shahbaz Rana) In a questionable move, the federal government has further enhanced perks and privileges of the sitting and former parliamentarians and their spouses by amending the two general laws through the Finance Act 2018.
The acting President Sadiq Sanjrani has given his consent to Finance Act 2018 that includes amendments in Members of Parliament (Salaries and Allowances) Act 1974 and Chairman and Speaker (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) Act 1975. Both these laws have been separately passed by the National Assembly and the Senate and do not fall in the Money Bill definition.
However, the Finance Act 2018 revealed that the government has inserted these amendments in the Finance Act at the eleventh hour, as changes in both the laws were not even part of the final Finance Bill that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) had tabled in the National Assembly last week.
All these additional perks and allowances were never debated at any stage of budget scrutiny either in the Senate Standing Committee of Finance or in the National Assembly. Salaries and allowances of the members of parliament, Senate chairman and speaker National Assembly are governed by these two laws.
Through an amendment in the Members of Parliament Act of 1974, the government has extended the free air travel by the parliamentarians to all the Pakistani airlines. Earlier, the parliamentarians’ entitlement was limited to only Pakistan International Airlines.
Each member of the parliament is entitled to avail up to Rs300,000 worth of free air travel within Pakistan. Through another amendment, the government has enhanced the business class travel for attending the assembly sessions from 20 trips to 25 trips from and to Islamabad from anywhere in the country. This is in addition to Rs300,000 air travel.
The government has also enhanced the medical facilities of the sitting and the former parliamentarians, bringing their facilities at par with the highest paid bureaucrat, serving in the grade-22.
A member and ex-member shall be entitled to the same medical facilities as are admissible to an officer of BPS-22 of the federal government, according to the new amendment.
There are 342 members of the National Assembly and 104 members of the Senate in addition to hundreds of former parliamentarians and their spouses.
Moreover, the government has also allowed the former parliamentarians and their spouses to retain “the gratis official (blue) passport”, which will make them entitled to VVIP treatment anywhere in Pakistan and in the world at the expense of the taxpayers.
Not only that, the government has doubled the monthly honorarium of the chairmen of the standing committees from Rs12,700 to Rs25,000 per month. This is in addition to their monthly salaries and other perks and privileges.
A member elected as the chairman of a standing committee of a house shall, in addition to the salary, allowances and facilities admissible as a member will now be entitled to Rs25,000 honorarium, the services of a private secretary in basic pay scale 17, stenographer in basic pay scale 15, driver in basic pay scale 4 and one Naib Qasid in basic pay scale 1, telephone facility in the office to a limit of Rs10,000 per month and office accommodation with necessary furniture and equipment.
The acting president has also approved an amendment in the Chairman and Speaker (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) Act, 1975, making the deputy speaker eligible for all the perks and privileges that are currently available to the Speaker.
“In section 18, after the word “Speaker”, the words “including a person who has held such office after election thereto”, shall be inserted,” said the new amendment.
In March this year, the government had also increased the daily allowance of parliamentarians by 71% in a bid to match it with that given to civil servants in the country. Accordingly, the ordinary and special daily allowance were increased from Rs1,750 to Rs3,000 and from Rs2,800 to Rs4,800 respectively, which is equal to the allowance offered to grade-22 officers of the federal government.