Editorial: Too much for doing too little

WEB DESK: The Cabinet under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved a massive raise in the salary of parliamentarians because, as per the newly-appointed Minister of State for Information Maryam Aurangzeb while briefing the media, the salaries were insufficient to meet their expenditures and inappropriate to their status.

Such logic defies the basic applicable premise that compels private sector management to consider raising salaries – logic that must all the more be applied when the taxpayers’ money is at stake. A raise is either linked to performance which in this instance must include not only attendance but attendance during the entire parliamentary session or linked to the general price level which erodes the value of each unit of currency earned. It is unfortunate that attendance in parliament remains appallingly poor and, irony of ironies, it is relevant to recall that the senior PML-N leadership was compelled to request its own members to return to attend the budget session in the current year as there was a lack of quorum.

Sadly, the Prime Minister’s attendance record in parliament is under 20 percent while that of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s chairman Imran Khan is under 8 percent. Federal ministers too are periodically taken to task in the two houses due to their failure to attend and, in this context, it is necessary to point out that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has also been lax in attending parliament and his record is only slightly higher than the Prime Minister’s.

Be that as it may, he did attend Wednesday’s session when he announced the raise prompting his critics to maintain that his objective was political as opposed to economic. If true, this is a sad reflection of poor governance where political considerations are subordinate to economic considerations.

Inflation rate too does not justify such a massive raise. The Sharif administration in its budget documents claimed a rate of inflation of 3.5 percent last year, 4.8 percent the year before and 8.5 percent in its first year in power therefore such a high raise in salaries that effectively more than doubled the salaries of some, based on the status or on the positions held due to the Prime Minister’s largesse, is economically unjustified.

And if one adds the element of the persistent rise in current expenditure, in spite of protestations to the contrary by the Federal Finance Minister, the fact remains that the additional 400 million rupees per annum required to fund this raise is simply untenable given that the budget 2016-17 envisages an appallingly low 170 million rupees on human rights division, 218 million rupees on narcotics control division, 500 million rupees for crop insurance scheme and 150 million rupees to the textile division.

The Minister of State for Information also referred to status as a component in the government’s decision to raise salaries. Granted that each position is earmarked a salary that is commensurate to the education and experience required to fill that position yet status is not generally the word applied to those public representatives who seek membership of the House with the objective of serving the people. In this context, it may be recalled that the salaries by senior bank executives came under much criticism in the West with governments seeking to check the raise given that banks profits were on the decline.

And finally, Maryam Aurangzeb referred to salaries not being sufficient to meet the parliamentarians’ expenditure; however, in this instance a look at their perks and privileges would show that the salary raise is over and above other monetary perks that include 30 business class tickets a year, subsidised electricity, no charge in case of railway travel in first class, etc.

To conclude, one would hope that the parliamentarians, at least those in the opposition benches, reject this raise or failing that, seek a clarification from the Finance Minister as to what prompted him to determine the raise allocated to each commensurate to his status.

Source: Business Recorder