LAHORE: The exorbitant increase in the salaries and perks of Punjab lawmakers has been halted as the governor has decided not to sign the bill and make it a law for the time being after the prime minister’s tweet expressing displeasure at the Punjab Assembly’s move.
The bill, enjoying support of both the treasury and opposition benches in a rare show of unity, easily sailed through and was passed within minutes on Wednesday.
It prescribed a six-fold increase in the salary of the chief minister, three-fold raise for the speaker, deputy speaker and ministers and a two-fold increase for MPAs, besides enhancing their perks.
Irritated at the move, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday used his Twitter account to express displeasure.
Ministers change their tune as soon as PM scorns plans for increase in salaries of CM, provincial ministers and MPAs
“I am extremely disappointed by decision of Punjab Assembly to raise pays & privileges of MPAs, Ministers & esp CM. Once prosperity returns to Pak such a move cld be justified, but now, when we do not have resources to provide basic amenities to all our people, this is untenable,” the premier said in his tweet.
The PM also directed Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar to send the bill back to the assembly instead of signing it. He said at least the chief minister should not be provided a house for lifetime, as laid down in the bill, and the facility should be restricted to just three months.
The rules empower the governor to the send any bill back to the assembly for reconsidering it. But if the house passes the bill again, it becomes a law whether the governor signs it or not.
Many leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), who were earlier supporting the bill, took a U-Turn after PM Khan’s tweet and began opposing the salary increase.
Initially, federal Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad defended the Punjab Assembly’s move saying that the existing salaries were so meagre that a person from the middle class would not contest elections.
Talking to the media at the Islamabad district courts, he asked, “Do you want that MNAs and MPAs should not draw any salary?” adding that middle -class people like himself might not join the electoral race if they would not get anything in the shape of salary.
However, a couple of hours later and soon after the PM’s tweet, Mr Chaudhry changed his stance and tweeted: “Seems Punjab Government and the CM House is in the dark about the PM and the federal Govt Austerity policies otherwise such sham exercise of awarding huge benefits to themselves would not have happened...”
Punjab Information Minister Samsam Bukhari, who had supported the bill on Wednesday, changed his stance within 24 hours and expressed reservation over the bill, saying “he was against the raise in salaries.”
Then he changed his stance again and told the media outside the Punjab Assembly that he had only stated that there might be some MPAs who might need residence.
However, there are some who still stick to their ground. Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari told the media that it was a wonderful step to increase the Punjab MPAs’ salary.
Responding to the prime minister’s tweet, he said “there is nothing wrong in increasing the perks of the assembly members.”
The chief minister’s spokesperson Shahbaz Gill told a press conference in the evening that both the PM and the CM had expressed displeasure at the increase in salaries. But, at the same time, he sought to defend the bill by saying it (the increase) equalled the basic pay of the Punjab lawmakers to what was being received by the legislators of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He would not say if the government planned to withdraw the bill and argued that “once a bill is passed by the assembly, it may be analysed, but the unanimous thinking of the house cannot be rejected. Therefore, it will be reconsidered by our parliamentary party.”
Meanwhile, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari’s daughter Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari criticised the prime minister’s tweet saying that there were things more disappointing than the raise in the lawmakers’ salary.
“More extremely disappointed in the daily heli trips, more than monthly foreign visits, the non attendance of Parliament oh and you know the plummeting abysmal state of our economy & currency,” she said in a tweet.
In the meantime, a press release issued by the Punjab Assembly secretariat seeks to negate the impression that the Punjab Public Representation’s Law (Amendment) Bill-2019 had been passed in haste.
“…the bill has been passed after completing all legal process in 21 days,” it says.
The press release says that the draft bill had been submitted by five MPAs, including two of the PML-N, one of the PPP and two of the PTI, 22 days ago. After being introduced in the assembly on the private members’ day, it was referred to the Standing Committee on Law, which discussed the bill clause-wise in its meeting and also compared it with the salaries of the chief minister, speaker, deputy speaker, ministers and members of the KP Assembly. Along with recommendations of the committee it was again presented in the assembly on March 13 and was approved unanimously, it concludes.
Malik Asad from Islamabad also contributed to the report
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019