Baneful discourse in Parliament
Mohammad Jamil


PEOPLE are wondering what the Parliamentarians are up to? They are trading barbs and fighting with each other instead of focusing on the issues and challenges faced by the Federation. Is this the way to justify the salaries and perks paid by the people of Pakistan? Parliamentary salary is just one component of politicians’ pay cheques. Taking account of the various expenses reimbursed to the members of the assemblies, their annual pay may be as much as double. Despite their being at loggerheads, whenever a bill was tabled enhancing their perks it was immediately passed without debate or discussion. On 31 May 2018, PML-N government had completed its five-year term; however, just a few hours before the end of its tenure the government enhanced perks and privileges of the sitting and former parliamentarians and their spouses by amending the two general laws through the Finance Act 2018 to which the then Acting President Sadiq Sanjrani gave his consent.

The Finance Act 2018 included amendments in Members of Parliament (Salaries and Allowances) Act 1974 and Chairman and Speaker (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) Act 1975. Both these laws had been separately passed by the National Assembly and the Senate and did not fall in the Money Bill definition. However, the government had inserted these amendments in the Finance Act at the eleventh hour, as changes in both the laws were not even part of the final Finance Bill. Through an amendment in the Parliament Act of 1974 of the bill the government extended the free air travel by the parliamentarians to all the Pakistani airlines instead of only Pakistan International Airlines. Each member was entitled to avail up to Rs 300000 free air travel within Pakistan. The government had enhanced the business class travel for attending the assembly sessions from 20 trips to 25 trips from and to Islamabad from anywhere in the country.
People are paying for their salaries, perks and privileges of the members of Parliament, but instead of discussing the ways and means to revive the economy, to create jobs for the teeming millions and improving the lives of especially those living below the poverty line, most parliamentarians from treasury and opposition benches are involved in baneful discourse, trade barbs and accuse each other of corrupt practices and amassing wealth using their position and clout. On Wednesday, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari criticised Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government over what he called its failure to have an effective foreign policy, economic plan and understanding to maintain law and order. The Prime Minister did not even take the recent law and order situation seriously, Bilawal Zardari said, adding that when public and private property was being damaged and major cities were besieged during TLP protests, Mr Khan went to China.
Though 70 days in the government is too short a time to evaluate government policies, he asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to come to Parliament to disclose the conditions his government had accepted to receive bailout packages from Saudi Arabia and China. The question is what was the modus operandi of the previous governments? PPP government had not taken Parliament or people into confidence before its decision of handing over Gwadar Port to China. The PML-N government had kept the details of CPEC up to its sleeves and media persons have been running helter skelter to find out the details. When asked about the ruling party’s performance in the first 100 days, the PPP Chairman said only 10 days were left in the deadline that the PTI had set for itself he would address another press conference to tell the nation about government performance after the deadline.
During his speeches in public meetings and press conferences Mian Nawaz Sharif and other leaders of PML-N often harped on the tune that military dictators caused enormous damage to the polity and economy of the country. But the people of Pakistan remember the internecine conflicts between the political parties when alliances were formed to get rid of the elected governments. It was also due to the shenanigans, gimmicks, corruption and internecine conflicts between the political parties that provided opportunity to praetorians; of course military dictators also failed to deliver. Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz are keeping a low profile nowadays; perhaps they have realized that clash between the institutions is fraught with extreme dangers. Anyhow, some political leaders and their parties remained absorbed in politics of power and pelf, and never tried to establish paradigm of good governance.
Two major political parties have had opportunities to show to the people the difference between dictatorship and democracy but they failed to establish democratic institutions, promote democratic traditions and implement peoples’ welfare policies. Nawaz Sharif did not mind military’s interference so long as military was on the ‘right side’, as it happened on 16th March 2009 at the time of long march vis-à-vis restoration of deposed judges. Having that said, to prevent army’s intervention, the politicians have to change their attitude and practice democracy in their parties that have become family enterprises. They should create climate conducive to investment, strive for putting economy on an even keel and provide basic necessities of life and utilities to the people at affordable prices. And they need to understand that issues of bread and butter come to the masses uppermost, and everything else is secondary.