LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly on Wednesday passed two bills; one aiming at increasing financial perks and privileges of the public representatives and the other changing the operational philosophy of the Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Centre.
The first bill sailed through with complete consensus and within five minutes as it had raised salaries and fringe benefits of all assembly members, including the chief minister, ministers, speaker, deputy-speaker.
After the passage of the bill, the speaker’s salary has jumped from Rs37,000 to Rs200,000 per month and his deputy would now get Rs185,000 instead of Rs35,000 and so would be cabinet members and advisors. The members (MPAs) are now entitled to Rs80,000 per month rather than Rs18,000 and their utility bills entitlement has gone up to Rs200,000 instead of earlier Rs120,000. This fiscal adjustment, naturally, had no one to oppose in the House and the bill was passed with a few minutes.
The Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Center bill, however, did create divisions as the Opposition wanted to run the centre on autonomous lines, as originally conceived, but the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf insisted: “It is government money and official land. How can the centre be left completely out of the official control?”
Raja Basharat, minister for law and parliamentary affairs, explained the new priority about the centre, its running and logic behind the bill. “The PML-N wanted to build the centre with public money, on public land and then hand it over to a board of trustees to run it with complete autonomy and impunity. But, the PTI has other ideas; it wanted the centre to run efficiently, but under the official watch. We cannot allow it to be totally free of government control.”
The bill, being opposed by the Opposition, reflects the same priority. The Opposition, nevertheless, kept insisting that its proposed model was a better one and the Treasury must consider it. “If PKLI is also run by administrative secretaries, it would not be any different from other hospitals. Since the PKLI is a world-class institute, it has to be run by supra professionals, on highly specialised lines – and it was not possible through secretaries. Those who conceived the idea, those who built the concept and the institute know the spirit behind the concepts, need to be put in the governing bodies,” Khawja Salman Rafique explained and claimed: “The PTI is trying to treat it as just another institute under the government control, stuffing the Board of Governors with bureaucrats and keeping it under the tighter official control. That is what the Opposition is opposing and suggesting induction of professionals in the board and let specialists run it on professional lines: induct them in the board, and give them free hand. Yes, it is public money, auditing process should be stringent and so should be transparency – but one cannot replace experts with generalists. That is what Treasury is doing and the Opposition opposing.”
Raja Basharat, however, closed the argument when he said that the regime in the province had changed and the Opposition must recognise the fact. “The PTI does not want it and won’t let the institute slip out of its hands in the name of autonomy. For improving standards of the institute and making and keeping it a world-class institute, every suggestion of the Opposition would be accommodated, but its running cannot be left to unanswerable people.”
Rest was a procedure, which was completed quickly and the House passed the bill within the next five minutes.
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2019