Khyber-Pakthunkhwa government is planning to pass a new amendment to the law- and the cause behind this legislation will surprise you for its nobility and charity. The administration department has drafted two amendments to the KP Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) Act, 1975, to allow cabinet members, bureaucrats and others to use the government helicopter with the chief minister’s consent, and to increase government grants to furnish the official residences of members.

The KP assembly is said to be working on amending Section (8)(2) of the Act to increase the furnishing grant for ministers from Rs0.5 million to Rs1.5 million. An amendment to Section 7 of the Act is also in the works, which would allow cabinet members to use the helicopter at the government’s expense.

Needless to say, these propositions go against one of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s largest and most vocal initiatives- to promote austerity within government and to prevent wastage of public money on government luxuries.  While using a helicopter might be justified in special circumstances, increasing the furnishing allowance is just plain self-service when other development budgets are being slashed. KPK will soon find itself merged with FATA- which will create certain complications with the NFC award and the budget allocated to KPK. With the development of FATA in mind, increasing grants to furnish houses of assembly members should not be very high in priorities, especially when there is a lack of good and well-drafted legislation passed by the KP assembly.

This is not the first time that the PTI government has found itself in hot waters concerning a helicopter. Just when the height of the austerity drive was being lead by the centre government in September, with PTI leaders declaring that the Prime Minister and Governor Houses would be turned into universities, PTI was severely criticised for its liberal use of helicopters for state travel. The party at the time played down the use of helicopters by government officials for travel, terming it ‘official prerogative’ that does not go against the watchword of the austerity campaign it has initiated. The provincial government will find it much harder, however, to justify the urgent need for legislated increase in furnishing grants and why cabinet members would direly require helicopter travel.

The problem with the government is that it often makes tall claims, which it inevitably fails to live up to. The government would not be attracting this criticism for extravagance if it had not harshly attacked its opponents in the past for lack of austerity.