Monday, November 3, 2008

Ministerial Glut

After the Feb 2008 elections, many of us had hoped for a change in governance and for a move away from nearly a decade of cronyism, corruption, ineptitude and failed government policies at the hands of Musharraf and the PML-Q. And while the new PPP government has brought new faces into power, it is continuing many of the old Musharraf-PML-Q government policies. It is certainly continuing the PML-Q tradition of appointing a legion of ministers, a practice which is both costly and unnecessary.

Yesterday, 40 new ministers were sworn in to the federal cabinet bringing the total to a whopping 55. This means that now 16 percent of the 342 members of the National Assembly are part of the cabinet. 53 percent (50 out of 94) of PPP MNAs are also now part of the cabinet.

Why does Pakistan need 55 cabinet members when a 15 member US cabinet governs a country of over 300 million people? The answer of course lies in the perks of being a cabinet member. While an MNA gets a monthly salary of 17,000 rupees, a Federal Minister gets 40,000 rupees and a Minister of State (a junior cabinet member) gets 37,000 rupees. Here are the other legal perks of belonging to the cabinet(1), (2):
  1. Monthly payment of rent by the state up to 19,550 rupees and 17,825 rupees for official residences of Federal Ministers and Ministers of State, respectively;
  2. Monthly payment of rent by the state up to 19,550 rupees and 17,825 rupees for personal residences of Federal Ministers and Ministers of State, respectively;
  3. Monthly utility allowance of 15,000 rupees;
  4. Daily allowance for gas and electricity of 550 rupees;
  5. The free use of a 1600cc car for the minister and his/her family;
  6. One free telephone line for the office and home, with free calls inside the country;
  7. Subsidized air travel;
  8. A one time 5,000 rupee equipment allowance;
  9. A one time furnishing allowance with a maximum limit of 100,000 rupees;
  10. An annual discretionary grant of 600,000 rupees and 400,000 rupees for Federal Ministers and Ministers of State, respectively.
There is of course the unquantifiable but surely not insignificant perk of bribes in holding a position in the cabinet, too.

Not counting the bribe or perks 5-10, the annual expense to the people of Pakistan for each Federal Minister is 1.33 million rupees and for each Minister of State is 1.25 million rupees.

No wonder everyone in the National Assembly wants a piece of this pie, and the PPP government seems more than happy to oblige. The facts that we are in a major fiscal crisis and that we desperately need to balance our government budget and stop government borrowing from the SBP to bring inflation down from over 30% seem to be lost on our government. It is very happy to withdraw subsidies from struggling Pakistanis and slash developmental expenditure for the sake of government frugality but sees no contradiction in feeding the greed of the ruling coalition's MNAs out of the taxpayer's pocket. Pakistanis will now be paying over 71.8 million rupees in salaries and perks to cabinet members every year.

This is a far cry from 15 August 1947, when a 6 member cabinet was sworn in under Liaquat Ali Khan. Instead, this expanded cabinet is shockingly reminiscent of Shaukat Aziz's 66 member whale of a cabinet.

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