Too much travel money
IT was a sunny winter morning in Islamabad and everything appeared as usual until our bureaucrat, let`s call him Mr X, hitherto an officer of Basic Pay Scale (BPS) 19 in the Government of Pakistan, learnt of his promotion to BPS-20. Earlier, Mr X would come to office in his 1996 model Suzuki Margalla. Being the honest civil servant that he is, he could not afford more than that.
Mr X travelled a few kilometres in his commute from home to office and back again. The total cost of his trip could not be more than Rs200 per day. This would be inclusive of the cost of fuel (petrol of course as we would not want our bureaucrat to waste his time in long CNG-seeking queues composed of the poor public), the cost of the vehicle`s daily wear and tear and the single packet of a popular brand of potato chips Mr X liked to munch on while driving.
Given the long weekend Mr X enjoyed, his monthly cost of travel to work came to Rs4,400. This was fine, but when Mr X found himself promoted to BPS-20, suddenly his monthly cost of travel rocketed to Rs65,960 that amounts to Rs3,000 per day.
Why? Because from that day on Mr X started throwing out Rs100 currency notes from his car randomly because being the honest officer that he is, he wants to make sure that all the money given to him as conveyance allowance is used up in his travel to office. So any reader finding these currency notes strewn on roads leading to the secretariat in Islamabad should know that Mr X has gone to office.
On Dec 3, 2011 Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani approved the rules/policy for Compulsory Monetisation ofTransport Facility for Civil Servants (BPS-20 to BPS22) according to which officials cars will be taken back from those officers serving in pay scales BPS20 to BPS-22. They will be given a huge amount of money as conveyance allowance. A BPS-22 officer will be paid Rs95,910as conveyance allowance, a BPS-21 will be given Rs77,430 and an officer in BPS-20 will receive Rs65,960 for the same purpose. These amounts are actually more than the salary these officers draw.
Apart from that, the above-mentioned officials will be authorised to use general-duty official vehicles for travelling for official purposes other than the daily commute to office. It would be stating the obvious that often official vehicles are used to pick and drop the university-going son of the `sahib` take the `begum sahiba` shopping and for the driving lessons of the younger daughter.
I am pretty sure that general-duty vehicles would be used the same way by the officers in control and it would be a case of having your cake and eating it too for the big bosses. It is to be noted here that government officials serving in BPS-1 to BPS-10 are being paid Rs1,150 as conveyance allowance, BPS11 to BPS-15 Rs1,360 and BPS-16 to BPS-19 Rs2,480.
Unfortunately, instead of giving the lower cadres a muchneeded raise the big bosses have decided to fill their own pockets. This is not something new; a few years ago, the then federal secretaries decided to give themselves one more plot of land in Islamabad in addition to the one they get at the end of service. Fudging figures and sugarcoating the reality comes naturally to our governance gurus so it is not with surprise that we note that the implementation of the monetisation of transport facility would result in likely savings of Rs1.369bn per annum. I have serious doubts about the credibility of this figure but even if it is to be believed, then a saner dispersion of the conveyance allowance could well take the figure to 1.5bn per annum if not more.
I am not against austerity measures. In fact, an effort in this direction is commendable. But I seriously believe that the authority that finally signs such approvals should take off its blindfold once in a while to see that there is more to it than what meets the eye.
Lastly, it has been a year since I wrote a piece titled `I am corrupt, honestly` in this paper. The article triggered quite a debate and those who read it would know what I am talking about. For those who have not read the piece, the article was about the appallingly low salaries civil servants get at the start of their careers. Though things haven`t changed much since then, the good thing about all bad things is that one gets used to the situation, so most of my young civil servant friends have stopped complaining.
But somehow the extremely cold winter and the self-serving policymaking at the top of the bureaucracy ladder have caused a resurgence of old pains. Nothing was done to facilitate the young officers joining the civil service but when it came to devising a policy for monetisation of transport facilities the babus in Islamabad came up with a mind-boggling policy.
They say one can fool some people for some time and then one tends to find new people to fool. But the audacity of our bureaucracy is that it fools the same set over and over again.
At such audacity, I am stunned, honestly.
The writer is a civil servant.