Parliamentary Pay Deal Draws Protests

Many Afghans see the sizeable salaries awarded to members of the new legislature as a thinly-veiled bribe from the government.

Parliamentary Pay Deal Draws Protests

Many Afghans see the sizeable salaries awarded to members of the new legislature as a thinly-veiled bribe from the government.

Sunday, 19 February, 2006
Samiullah shivers as he stands in the cold on a street corner in central Kabul waiting for a bus to take him home. The civil servant says he can’t afford a shared taxi on his meagre salary.

“I receive just 50 [US] dollars a month, so I have to decide between food for my family and transportation,” he said.

But he heats up when discussing the salaries announced for members of Afghanistan’s new parliament.

“This is treason,” he said. "With these salaries, the government is trying to shut the mouths of the deputies. To preserve their salaries, they will be afraid to oppose the government openly.”

According to the pay schedule recommended by the finance ministry and approved by President Hamed Karzai, the speakers of the two houses of parliament receive monthly salaries of 3,500 dollars; their deputies get 1,500 dollars each, while the post of secretary carries 1,200 a month. The remaining deputies - 245 in the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house, and 98 in the Meshrano Jirga, or upper house - are being paid 1,100 dollars a month, with three months’ paid holiday a year.

A junior clerk working in a government office, by comparison, makes 40 dollars a month while a senior civil servant earns up to 120 dollars. Most government employees are given no more than six weeks’ paid leave, and that includes both vacation and sick leave.

Dr Shafaq Nejrabi, who works at the government-run Maiwand Hospital, is paid just 50 dollars.

“This is unfair,” he fumed. “Whoever made the decision to reward deputies like this should have realised that public-sector employees have families as well.”

Even some members of parliament think that their salaries are out of line.

Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and now member of the Wolesi Jirga, said that the salaries being paid to parliamentarians are an attempt by the government to co-opt the legislature.

“These payments mean the government is trying to attract the deputies, to make them well-disposed towards it,” he said. “There shouldn’t be such a big difference between parliamentarians’ salaries and those of government employees.”

Bashardost says that he has not spent his own salary on himself. "When I got my 1,100 dollar salary, I went to the Dehmazang neighbourhood of Kabul together with the district head, and gave some of it to refugees, and some to the cleaners at the Dentistry Hospital,” he said.

Another lawmaker, former army general Noor ul-Haq Ulumi, agreed that the salaries were inappropriate.

“The salaries of parliamentarians should be fair. There should not be such a disparity with government employees, like between heaven and earth,” he said.

Like Bashardost, Ulumi believes the high salaries reflect a desire to buy the goodwill of legislators. “The government wants individuals in parliament to work for the its own benefit,” he said.

But Fawzia Kofi, a member of the Wolesi Jirga, says these salaries are barely sufficient to meet her colleagues’ needs. “When a deputy receives 1,100 dollars, he or she has to pay house rent, telephone bills and so on. It’s not nearly enough,” she said.

Delegates also have to have meet the public and entertain guests. She believes the government should ensure that lawmakers’ needs are adequately addressed, “That way there will be no need for them to take bribes.”

The low salaries paid to government employees are often cited as a major reason for the corruption that is endemic to the Afghan administration.

Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, spokesman for the ministry of parliamentary relations, said that the salaries had been determined in discussions between the government and both houses of parliament.

“I do not think that this is a lot of money for them,” he said. “They have a lot of contact with people, they have to entertain. And the government is still trying to raise the salaries of all its employees.”

Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, political analyst and editor of the weekly newspaper Payam-e-Mujahed, who narrowly missed winning a seat in the parliament, warns that paying high salaries has a distorting effect.

“It isn’t good to give them so much money,” he said. “It causes mismanagement and unfair competition. If parliament continues to get these kinds of privileges, in the next election we will have more candidates than voters.”

Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
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