Self-imposed poverty

Published March 23, 2024

AMONG the comity of nations, Sweden stands out for its high standard of living, technological innovations (Spotify, Minecraft, Skype, Saab, Volvo, Ikea), outstanding environmental activists like Greta Thunberg and famous artists like ABBA. It hosts the world’s most gifted minds every year for the award of the Nobel Prize, a tradition that has continued since 1901.

What makes Sweden a huge success story and one of the most developed countries in the world? The answer lies in the high standards of ethics, austerity and accountability of public money exercised by its political leaders. When it comes to the salaries, perks and privileges of parliamentarians, Sweden and Pakistan are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Sweden is often called a country where politicians have little pay and no privileges. Pakistan, on the other hand, has politicians who ruthlessly devour taxpayers’ resources — bestowing limitless perks and privileges upon themselves. The following paragraphs explain the reasons for Pakistan’s poverty and the lessons it could learn from Sweden.

The prime minister of Pakistan, a country mired in debt and poverty, lives in a palatial house spread over 12,000 square yards. The prime minister of Sweden is entitled to a modest house of only 360 square yards. The Speaker and deputy Speaker of our National Assembly enjoy full-time official luxury cars and drivers maintained at public expense. The Swedish parliament’s Speaker, on the other hand, is entitled only to public bus tickets. Members of parliament (MPs) in Pakistan are entitled to a basic salary of Rs150,000 per month, while Swedish parliamentarians receive just about half of the after-tax salary of an average primary schoolteacher.

Pakistani lawmakers have concocted numerous allowances and perks that could overwhelm and disgust even the richest countries of the world. To quote just a few, Pakistani MPs receive an office maintenance allowance of Rs8,000 per month. Swedish MPs, on the contrary, receive zero office maintenance allowance and hold meetings in public libraries or party offices. Pakistani MPs receive Rs10,000 per month as telephone allowance, while Swedish MPs use their own phones and receive zero telephone allowance. Pakistani MPs receive Rs5,000 per month as sumptuary allowance. No such allowance is the entitlement of any MP in Sweden. Pakistani MPs are entitled to free installation of a residential telephone, while Swedish MPs have no such ludicrous privilege.

No nation can survive with an immoral allocation of so much to so few.

It appears that the primary motive of becoming an MP is to promote tourism and air travel. Each Pakistani MP receives 25 business class return air tickets every year. In addition, they receive travel vouchers of Rs300,000 every year for travel by self and family from any destination to any other destination within the country. The MPs of Sweden enjoy no such luxuries. Although ‘ad-hoc’ is intrinsically a shady term, Pakistan’s parliament has no qualms in designing an entitlement of Rs15,000 per month as ad hoc relief allowance for each MP. Relief from what, one might ask. Then there is a ‘special’ daily allowance of Rs4,800 per day and an ‘ordinary’ daily allowance of Rs2,800 per day that each MP is entitled to. To incentivise the reluctant arrival from home to parliament, each MP additionally receives a gift of Rs2,000 per day as conveyance allowance. None of these allowances are given to or even imagined by any Swedish MP.

Adding yet more to the perks, Pakistani MPs are entitled to receive the same level of free medical tre­atment as a Grade 22 officer. In Swe­d­­en, the MPs receive the same medical treatment as given to any ordinary citizen. Not to miss out on any aspect of

the booty, Pakistan’s MPs are entitled to free official blue pass­ports for self and spo­use. Swedish MPs are entitled to the same passport as that of any ordinary citizen.

No nation in the world can survive, let alone progress with such an immoral allocation of so much to so few, while its teeming millions are deprived and tortured and left to fend for themselves. Pakistan ought to awaken from its deep slumber to understand why some countries succeed and others fail. Will the new occupants of Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue have the courage and sagacity to strip themselves and all government officials of perks, privileges, allowances, government vehicles, free petrol, electricity, guards, drivers, secretaries, assistants, naib qasids and numerous other discriminatory entitlements that the ordinary citizens cannot even dream of? It is time for Pakistan to catch up with the rest of the world by jettisoning the inequity imposed by its own self-entitled colonial ruling elite.

The writer is an industrial engineer and a volunteer social activist.

naeemsadiq@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2024

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