Great changes require a powerful hand to guide them and push them forward. Lavish lifestyle of politicians, bureaucrats, judges and generals at people’s expense has become a part of the political culture in Pakistan.
The government of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and the bureaucrats serving in remote areas of the region are not behind anybody in this respect. The province has an annual budget of about Rs36 billion for 2015-16 — Rs22 billion for non-development expenditure and a mere Rs14 billion for development.
Assembly members and ministers enjoy perks and privileges and a hefty amount has been earmarked for the GB chief minister and governor. If this trend continues, the GB government would end up borrowing a huge amount for non-development expenditure.
According to an official, “The GB chief secretary and his team spend Rs4 million on their visits to Germany and the United Kingdom that have failed to bear the fruit so far.”
Frequent visits of the GB legislators to Islamabad and long stays in posh areas of the federal capital have become common phenomena. In December and January, the GB lawmakers prefer to spend most of their time in Islamabad because of extreme weather conditions at home.
GB Governor Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Chief Minister Hafiz-ur-Rehman and members of the provincial cabinet spend most of their time with families and friends in Islamabad, leaving their people at the mercy of the local power distribution companies, which are carrying out 15 to 20-hour load-shedding every day.
People are criticising the GB governor on the social media. “The governor, his wife and his son are mostly found in Islamabad. The governor’s wife is a member of the provincial assembly and his son is an advisor to the provincial government,” writes Farhat Ullah on his social media page.
Pervasive poverty, dilapidated infrastructure and huge unemployment reflect poor performance of the GB government. Though no systematic poverty survey has ever been conducted in the region, the estimates based on the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement survey indicate that consumption in GB is 90 percent of the national average and incidence of poverty is about 29 percent as compared to 24 percent in rest of Pakistan.
Moreover, a report by the FAO states that only 26 percent of the population is food secure, 41 per cent is moderately food insecure and 32 per cent is highly food insecure in GB.
In contrast, the GB Assembly passed a bill in November to increase the salaries of its members. According to the bill, the chief minister’s basic pay increased from Rs70,000 to Rs250,000 per month, while GB Assembly speaker’s basic pay increased from Rs52,550 to Rs120,000 per month.