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ISLAMABAD: A lawmaker caused a stir in the house on Thursday when he complained that an MNA’s salary was not enough for him to manage his expenses.

It is a widespread impression that parliamentarians love to give themselves pay raises, but when JUI-F MNA Maulana Ameer Zaman broke down his expenses, even National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq found it hard to fault him.

The discussion began during Question Hour, when PTI’s Sajida Begum asked the finance ministry to explain the disparity between the salaries of provincial and federal lawmakers.

Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Rana Mohammad Afzal Khan told the house that MPAs’ salaries were decided by the provincial governments, adding that the ministry would welcome any proposal to this effect if it came from the speaker.

“If this was within my power, I would definitely get it done. But [pay raises for lawmakers] are the responsibility of the finance ministry,” was Speaker Ayaz Sadiq’s reply, to which the parliamentary secretary simply smiled before sitting back down.

Then it was Maulana Ameer Zaman’s turn to protest. “An MPA’s salary in Balochistan is between Rs200,000 and Rs400,000, whereas I make a paltry Rs60,000 to 70,000,” he said as other lawmakers thumped their desks in approval.

“I pay Rs10,000 for my accommodations [at Parliament Lodges], Rs5,000 each for gas and electricity and I have to bear my travelling costs from this small sum,” the JUI-F lawmaker said.

This impassioned appeal seemed to move the speaker too. “The MPA under Maulana Ameer Zaman makes more than him; this must be rectified. He even has to travel to Islamabad while the MPA can just stay at home. He has other expenses too, like his wives and children,” he said, before pausing and asking the bearded lawmaker, tongue-in-cheek, “Is it wives or just one wife?”

Veteran parliamentarian Aftab Sherpao also chimed in, saying, “Finance Minister Ishaq Dar made us a promise that he hasn’t kept. What can a parliamentary secretary do? We should ask Mr Dar when he comes to the house.”

Even Jamshed Dasti, one of the National Assembly’s most regular truants, waded into the debate. “I have to come here by bus and have other expenses that I need to meet. In Balochistan, they have decided that an MPA’s salary will be equivalent to that of a high court judge. As members of the National Assembly, our pay should at least be equivalent to that of a Supreme Court judge,” he said, to the sound of more desk-thumping.

The speaker then observed that it was the sense of the house that provincial and federal lawmakers should have uniform pay scales. But the parliamentary secretary, no doubt attempting to curry favour with his colleagues in the house, said, “I feel that MNAs should get more than MPAs.”

Mr Sherpao also pointed out that parliamentarians could not get credit cards or bank loans, and asked Rana Mohammad Afzal whether there was any regulation of the State Bank of Pakistan that prevented them from availing these facilities.

His view was endorsed by the speaker, but the parliamentary secretary maintained that no such bar existed. But as he sat back down, Maryam Aurangzeb reminded Mr Afzal that banks did have a provision for “politically exposed” persons, who would be declined their services.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2016