PESHAWAR: For the last five months, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly has been paying its 500-plus staff members a hefty sum of over Rs6 million as monthly honorarium for a long-drawn session with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including the speaker, knowing little about the reasons for the prolongation of the sitting.
The session, which was called on July 29 by the provincial government and is still under way, is apparently becoming one of the longest in the parliamentary history of the assembly. Sources said that more than 500 employees of the assembly secretariat were being paid an additional basic salary, as notified by the finance committee of the assembly, as honorarium whenever the house was in session.
The amount totals over Rs6 million a month, an official told Dawn requesting anonymity.
He said that all staff members of the provincial assembly were entitled to get “session allowance”, which was equal to one basic salary paid in addition to the monthly pay, until the session was prorogued.
Speaker doesn’t know why house in session for five months, says his press secretary
“Apart from payment of the session allowance to staff of the secretariat, officials of other departments and its attached directorates also claim transport and daily for attending the sittings, adding to burden on the exchequer,” he said.
Significantly, lawmakers and relevant officials are clueless about the reasons why the government has kept the assembly in session for such a long period. Even Speaker Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani, custodian of the house, does not know reasons and intentions of the government for prolonging the session for five months.
“Mr Speaker does not know about the reasons,” said Raja Usman, press secretary to the speaker.
He said when the government summoned the session, the speaker couldn’t prorogue the sitting and that he could only adjourn it.
Details available on the assembly’s official website show that the house has met for just 22 days during the course of five months long session.
An official source said it had become something of a trend with the assembly to be in session for two days, only to be adjourned for 15 to 20 days.
However, even when the house has been in session, its proceedings have been marred by a lack of interest from both sides of the aisle. Throughout the summer season, Speaker Mushtaq Ghani struggled with the bureaucracy, ministers and members of the treasury benches to improve their attendance.
Annoyed with the low attendance of members earlier last month, Mr Ghani warned he would issue notices to lawmakers absent from the house for more than six days without notice and inform the Election Commission of Pakistan about the matter.
Earlier, Mr Ghani had hinted at the installation of a biometric system to check the attendance of the assembly members.
Opposition leader in the provincial assembly Akram Khan Durrani also expressed reservations about the prolonging of the session and a lack of interest on part of the members as well as bureaucracy.
Another official told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the speaker, instead of hurling empty verbal threats at absent members, could direct the assembly secretariat to prevent them from drawing salaries.
He said the “Salaries and Allowances of Members Act” declared, “If a member fails to attend at least three-fourth of the total number of meetings held on a month, or if elected during the course of a month, fails to attend at least three-fourth of the total number of meetings held in that month subsequent to the date on which he makes an oath, shall be ineligible to draw salary for that month.”
A lack of seriousness in the ongoing session could be gauged from the fact that house was scheduled to meet on Dec 21. However, on Thursday, the assembly secretariat issued a notification changing the date to Dec 27. However, the notification did not offer any specific reason for the change of date.
MPA of the opposition Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal Inayatullah Khan said there was no such provision in the “Procedure and Conduct of Business Rules of the Assembly”, which restricted the government from keeping the house in session for a long time.
“This is against parliamentary ethics and norms to continue a session for months without a specific agenda,” he said, adding that the government had clear majority in the assembly and could convene the session any time if necessary, instead of dragging it for five months.
Parliamentary affairs minister Shaukat Yousafzai did not respond to a Dawn request for comments on the matter.
Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2021