QUEST FOR PERKS, PRIVILEGES
November 25, 2011
In the Land of the Pure, State minions constantly keep clamouring for increase in perks and privileges. By monitoring their quest for increase in perks and privileges, one arrives at the conclusion that it has now become one of their traits. In the budget 2011-12, the federal cabinet, for instance, had approved monetisation of cars. To give a concrete shape to this decision, the top Baboos prepared a scheme whereby a car allowance of Rs.60,000 per month would be given to each grade 20 officer and Rs.70,000 and Rs.82,000 to grade 21 and grade 22 officers, respectively, so that they and their families continue enjoying free rides and take the cars under their use, free of cost, to their homes on retirement. From the monthly car allowance, an amount of Rs. 30,000 would be deducted to meet the depreciated value of the car and the balance would be given to the officer concerned to meet expenses on petrol and maintenance of the car under his/her use.
The government is already reportedly spending Rs.530,000 per month on every grade 22 officer. However, this amount does not include the initial membership fees of elite clubs like Islamabad Club, plots at subsidised rates, and other luxuries which come with membership of the Board of Directors of public sector autonomous bodies. If the Cabinet Division proposal is approved, it would inflict another blow of Rs.4.0 billion to the national kitty this year alone.
Till 1958, state officials were not allowed any perks over and above their normal salaries. The bureaucrats of all hues and colours, including federal secretaries of British nationality, had to make their own arrangements for going to offices and also for meeting their social obligations. They did not feel shy even using bicycles for this purpose. Post-1958, when the Khaki establishment, assigned to civil duties, started using official vehicles for their journeys to and back from office, the “infection” also caught the civil bureaucracy. Before 1958, even Prime Ministers felt at ease traveling in old model cars. The Ministers also drew clear lines of distinction between official and private journeys and used state vehicles strictly for official duties. The wives of cabinet ministers, who wanted to attend social or cultural functions, had to use private cars till early 1970s. When Manzoor Qadir was foreign minister, once his official car broke down, but this did not deter him from reaching his office in Islamabad riding a bicycle all the way from his residence in Rawalpindi, to keep up an official appointment.
By the time, civilian government was restored in 1971 the misuse of official vehicles had become widespread. Unable to plug the misuse, the government allowed free use of one vehicle to all Secretaries and Additional Secretaries, i.e. grade 21 and 22 officers of the federal government and grade 19 and 20 officers of the provincial governments. Even some grade 18 officers of the provincial governments got the facility due to their official designation. In 1997, the Musharraf administration also extended this facility to the federal government’s Joint Secretaries, who had, in fact, already been using official cars liberally. Earlier, the despot had extended this facility to all one-starred officers of the armed forces. But, despite the liberal concession, the misuse of official cars continues to grow.
The Auditor General of Pakistan has disclosed before the Public Accounts Committee that 14,000 of the 18,000 cars in 296 departments of the government were being misused. If the public transport is in tatters today, its prime cause is the emergence of this elitist culture, enjoying unprecedented privileges, and neglect of those modes of transport that are used by the masses.Post-1971, the rulers had started granting liberal perks – including official cars, plots of land and allowances, to the bureaucracy in a bid to get maximum cooperation from them which, they felt, was essential to prolong their rule or stifle the opposition. With time, the bureaucracy’s craving for favours, plots and choicest postings increased tremendously. Now, top bureaucrats in Pakistan have become one of the most pampered lot of their kind on the globe. During service, they enjoy unprecedented facilities like highly subsidized residential accommodation, free medical care and enrolment of kids in establishment-managed educational institutions on preferential basis, while on reaching the age of superannuation, top bureaucrats, both civil and Khaki, also succeeded in getting many perks and privileges, including a house, a chauffeur-driven car and some staff, over and above their normal pensions.
In 2006, the federal secretaries managed to obtain a 20 percent rise in their pay, which was earlier increased, in phases, by three times than the pre-1999 scales. They now want to supplement these special concessions by goading the government to allow them to take away along with them their official cars, at depreciated value, on the eve of their retirement. Instead of doing something to improve efficiency of the state machinery and to protect it from political intrusions, the State minions remain concerned about their own pockets and personal welfare. If one tries to trace the origin of granting additional perks to bureaucrats, one finds that the British colonial administration in the South Asia Sub-Continent granted some additional perks to the chief and vice-chief of their armed forces in the Sub-Continent, post-retirement. Citing that as a precedent, many dozens of Pakistan’s top bureaucrats of all hues and colours have succeeded in getting perks over and above their normal pensions.
To begin with, in the late 1980s, one of the retiring chiefs of the mighty was lucky to get the facility of a government house, a chauffeur-driven car and a staff of four, post-retirement. The grant of additional perks to the chief stirred the imagination of many and the government had to bestow additional benefits, post-retirement, to retiring chiefs of all services, including police and some provincial chief secretaries. Like the ‘avian flu,’ the virus of claiming additional perks has afflicted the entire bureaucracy. The successive administrations have been trying to address it by administering doses of an additional plot in Islamabad or double pay to officials responsible for security, revenue and maintenance of law and order or upgradation of officials who can resort to extreme steps for the fulfillment of their demands. A couple of those who were allotted two residential plots in Islamabad, had already been gifted several plots in other parts of the country.
Pakistan Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr. Nadeemul Haq reportedly felt frustrated with the ever increasing powers, perks and privileges of top bureaucrats, but he felt helpless in reversing the trend. When the general masses are not offered such sweetheart deals in Pakland, they fail to comprehend what have the bureaucrats done to deserve such largesse? Why should overtaxed citizens pay for the luxurious life styles of the bureaucrats, especially when they are responsible for the continuous all-round degeneration and decline in services? Even some saner elements amongst the erstwhile beneficiaries from the largesse honestly feel that the limited resources of the state cannot sustain these additional perks for long. But, only a leader with mass mandate, they maintain, can annul these extra-ordinary favours granted to the privileged few of the Land of the Pure.