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Dawn Editorial 4 February 2020

Parliament salaries

ALTHOUGH it was rejected by the majority in the upper house, it was a bad idea in the first place to attempt to table three bills seeking a raise in the salaries of lawmakers in the National Assembly and Senate.
The proposed bills came at a time when the government is stridently calling on the rest of the country to sacrifice in the name of stabilising the economy. Indeed, it is difficult to find someone in Pakistan these days who has not suffered a cut in their salary; a recent poll shows that four out of 10 respondents said they personally knew somebody who had lost his or her job. Not only that, people are suffering from higher taxes and rising inflation even as their own incomes drop.
Squeezed from all sides, it is hard to understand why a proposal was made to increase the salaries of the speaker of the National Assembly and the Senate chair by almost 400pc.
It was also recommended that the salaries of the deputy Senate chair and deputy National Assembly speaker be similarly increased, besides upping the pay of the rest of the parliamentarians. Not only that, the proposal also sought 25 business class local airfares to be given to parliamentarians for official travel, and, strangely, to be made available for use to families of the parliamentarians as well.
No doubt, the remuneration of parliamentarians is insufficient as a living — which means only those who have independent sources of money can actually afford to become lawmakers — and at some point these salaries may need to be revised, but this is not the time.
The PTI did the right thing to distance itself from the bill, which was introduced by six senators, four of whom are independent though one serves as chief whip of the ruling party, and one senator each from the PML-N and National Party.
They have a point that the pay structure discriminates against those who are forced to rely on their remuneration to pay their bills, but they must understand that at a time of such tremendous austerity and hardship for the rest of the country, such proposals send out the wrong signal and are unlikely to find support.
Perhaps those lawmakers who are not from rich backgrounds and can’t make ends meet through parliamentary salaries alone can find another way to explain their difficulties to the house without making it look like they are capriciously seeking luxuries at the taxpayers’ expense. And at a time, when they should be ready to perhaps even relinquish some of the perks they already receive, asking for round-trip business class tickets for themselves and their families is an insensitive demand.
For now, Pakistan’s MNAs and senators ought to have no choice but to share the current economic hardship with the rest of the country.


ISPR’s role

THE new director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations has taken charge at a time when the organisation has acquired an unprecedented profile in the affairs of the country.
Till the decade of the 1990s, ISPR was a relatively small setup playing a modest role as the media arm of the armed forces.
Over the years, however, it has ballooned into a well-resourced, well-equipped and well-staffed organisation that plays multiple roles within the overall domain of media and communications.
In some ways, the rapid expansion and growth of ISPR was a natural by-product of the information revolution that has speeded up since the advent of the digital age.
The military was perhaps the first institution to grasp the immense power of effective communication at a time when the connectivity of citizens was generating unimaginable empowerment at the individual, institutional and national level.
While the ministry of information and other communication and information outfits run by the government struggled to come to terms with the modern demands of the media, the military invested heavily in ISPR and its capacity to project power through weapons of mass influence.
Under the leadership of Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, ISPR transformed itself into a gigantic and high-profile institution that acquired a large footprint on the national landscape. With greater resources, mandate and reach, ISPR started to wield considerable influence in multiple areas of media and communication including films, documentaries and, of course, formation of a national narrative that reflected the thinking of the military leadership.
It was, however, under the next director general, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, that ISPR started to take on a greater political role. In frequent press conferences and media events, the DG began to express opinions on issues that fell outside the purview of the original ISPR mandate.
Gen Asif Ghafoor also acquired a higher profile on Twitter after becoming very active both through his official and private accounts. His spats with people on the micro-blogging site raised many an eyebrow given the fact that he was the official spokesman of the armed forces.
The outsized presence that ISPR acquired ended up landing the organisation in controversies that should not have involved the institution of the military.
With a new DG now heading ISPR, it is hoped that the armed forces’ media wing will return to its original mandate to become a powerful voice of the military while influencing the national narrative in a positive manner.


CNIC condition

THE FBR has finally put into effect a key budget proposal that aims to raise taxes. After delaying its implementation, it has started monitoring some transactions across the supply chains to the retail stage. Now every purchaser will have to produce his or her CNIC in order to make a purchase of Rs50,000 and above. The idea is to document the economy and curb informal or off-the-book transactions to meet tax targets under the $6bn IMF bailout package, as well as comply with FATF standards. In this way, the government hopes to gather additional data on traders and big spenders, and bring tax evaders into the tax net. Indeed, this will go a long way in recording informal domestic commerce. Since many in the trading community could find a way to dodge the taxman, the FBR needs to stay vigilant.
There still remains a question mark over the FBR’s intention and ability to use the data it hopes to collect. The FBR has been claiming for years that it is in possession of reliable data regarding more than 3.5m wealthy individuals who own expensive luxury cars, palatial houses and businesses, and who frequently travel abroad but do not pay income tax or file their returns. However, it has made little effort to tax them. How the new data will help widen the tax base remains unclear. On the other hand, fears abound that the scheme may be used to harass honest taxpayers who are required to produce their CNICs on purchases involving such amounts. It is also unclear if shoppers will need to hand in photo copies of their cards or produce the card itself at the cash counter. Moreover, the authorities will be required to ensure that the CNIC copies are not misused. While documentation measures are necessary to compel evaders to pay their due share, a campaign to create public awareness about the move can help bridge the trust deficit — the main reason why people and businesses avoid the tax system — between the FBR and Pakistani citizens.


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