Austerity & legislators’ perks

Published June 10, 2022
The writer is the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.
The writer is the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.

AS the date for the annual budget presentation in parliament approached against the backdrop of the deepening economic crisis, the salaries and perks enjoyed by state functionaries came under renewed discussion and scrutiny. Sensing the public mood, the chair of at least one Senate standing committee voluntarily surrendered the petrol allowance for his state-provided vehicle for the next six months. Will or should other legislators follow suit?

Contrary to general perceptions, our national and provincial legislators — with the exception of Balochistan MPAs — are not so well paid if we compare their salaries and perks to senior officials in the executive and judicial branches of the country. In most cases, it may be challenging to slash their wages in the wake of rising inflation. Still, there are several perks for members of the federal and provincial cabinets, such as the aforementioned petrol allowances, which have either already been cut or are being considered for significant reductions.

While discussing the salaries and perks of legislators, it is essential to bear in mind that, though being a legislator is not exactly a nine-to-five job, it is no more a part-time responsibility. In fact, a legislator’s duties relating to the legislature, their constituency, parliamentary party and other aspects are nothing less than a full-time job. Therefore, it is only fair to compare their compensation package to what senior officials in the executive and judicial branches receive.

Both senators and members of the National Assembly (MNAs) are currently paid a monthly salary of Rs150,000. If we add their regular monthly allowances, the total monthly compensation amounts to Rs188,000. Total monthly emoluments of provincial legislators in Punjab (Rs176,000), Sindh (Rs145,000) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Rs153,000) are not much different. Monthly emoluments for MPAs in Balochistan, however, amount to Rs440,000.

Our legislators are not so well paid if we compare their salaries and perks to senior officials in the country’s executive and judicial branches.

In addition, legislators are paid a daily allowance (per diem) and travel facilities when they travel from their constituencies to attend parliamentary sessions. This is normal, as even in the case of judges and civil servants, they are paid travel and per diem expenses while travelling for official work.

Many countries have a pension system for retired legislators. Within South Asia, India and Sri Lanka provide pension plans for their lawmakers. However, neither national nor provincial legislators receive any pension in Pakistan, even though judges and civil servants, like elsewhere, have retirement packages.

Chairpersons of the standing committees in the Senate and National Assembly are paid a nominal extra allowance. More significantly, they are given the use of a state-provided and state-maintained vehicle and a chauffeur. Three other administrative and support staff — a personal assistant, personal secretary and naib qasid — are also provided to each committee chair. While a case can be made for the additional staff — specifically research staff — for each committee, the provision of a state-maintained vehicle is not related to their official duties. The honourable legislators may consider surrendering this facility voluntarily, as one of the Senate committee chairs has done in the case of his fuel allowance.

Although it is difficult to make an accurate comparison of the perks and privileges enjoyed by senior officials of the judiciary and the executive and the perks given to legislators, a comparative study undertaken by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency two years ago indicated there were significant differences in the emolument packages of the three branches.

Basic Pay Scale 22 is the highest level a civil service official can reach, and their monthly salary and regular allowances at that scale amount to about Rs350,000. The government has also introduced management pay scales, primarily for contract employees in senior positions. MP-1 is the topmost scale in this category, and its monthly compensation amounts to about Rs700,000. The monthly salaries and allowances of the topmost civil service officials are, therefore, 86 to 272 per cent higher than national legislators’ emoluments.

According to the Commonwealth Parliamen­tarians Pay and Remuneration Survey (CPPRS)

Outcome Report of 2020-2021, the average monthly salary of a superior court judge in Pakistan is indicated as Rs800,000, although data available from other sources suggests that total emoluments may be much higher. Even if this salary is taken at face value, it makes it about 433pc higher than a legislator’s salary.

Having said that, it should also be kept in mind that judges’ salaries are universally higher than those of legislators and civil service officials by a significant margin. The superior judiciary is considered to be the highest earner in commonwealth countries across Africa, Asia and Australia. The CPPRS report provides comparative data in this respect. In Australia, judges earn approximately 198.74pc more than legislators. In the British Isles and the Mediterranean areas, the difference is about 188.76pc; in India and Bangladesh, it is around 150pc and 91pc, respectively. A review of this data indicates that the differential in emoluments of legislators and superior court judges in Pakistan is highest among Commonwealth countries.

It may also be helpful to mention here that there are many other perks allowed to judges, civil officials and legislators which are not included in the above comparison, and it is therefore only fair that all such perks be monetised and made public in the interest of transparency.

A review of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Emoluments Survey also indicates that while Pakistani legislators may be lacking in some facilities — such as pension, offices and research staff — their salary is comparable to that of their counterparts in the region. The monthly salary of a Pakistani senator or MNA is currently Rs150,000, which translates to $750. This is in comparison to $1,371 for Indian legislators, $745 for Sri Lankan and $649 for Bangladeshi legislators.

While discussing austerity measures, Pakistani legislators may choose to set a good example by voluntarily surrendering some perks, but it is clear that much greater room for austerity may be found elsewhere.

The writer is the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.

president@pildat.org

Twitter: @ABMPildat

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2022

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