ISLAMABAD - Taking a leaf from the book of their colleagues in the National Assembly, the senators too have made the finance ministry accept that they and other staff of parliamentary delegations going abroad will not have to produce any proof of their travel expenditure to the audit authorities – a decision that might lead to widespread abuse of MPs entitlements.

The finance ministry succumbed to the senators’ demand under the garb of ‘authority of the House finance committee’ as the latter argued with the government functionaries and made them accept that “there will be no requirement for the leader, members and staff of the entourage of outgoing parliamentary delegations to produce used air-tickets, boarding cards, hotel bills or any Travel Allowance (TA) adjustment bills to the audit authorities” in future.

According to the minutes of a meeting of the committee held just days before the retirement of half of the senators in March, the senators were earlier required under the rules to furnish receipts for adjustment of TA/DA upon conclusion of their foreign visits. The minutes, a copy of which is exclusively available with this scribe, revealed that the representative of finance ministry initially suggested that the senators and staff visiting abroad on official visits should preferably furnish receipts for adjustment of TA/DA upon conclusion of the visit.

The committee, on the contrary was of the considered view that decision regarding non-submission of adjustments – which was taken on the analogy of similar decision approved by the finance committee of the National Assembly – was equally and unequivocally to be accepted and implemented. The MNAs and staff of NA secretariat are already exempted from submitting TA/DA adjustment after conclusion of official foreign visits and AGPR team complying with the directions of NA finance committee raised no objection to it.

The committee directed that there should be no discrimination of privileges and entitlement between members/employees of the two constitutional secretariats and reconfirmed/re-endorsed the earlier decision of the senate finance committee that senators and senate secretariat staff too must be given the said exemption. “The amount drawn in advance according to the entitlement or as per actual rates approved by the competent authority, which is sanctioning advance will be treated as final,” it said.

The ministry accepted the ‘constitutional position and authority of the finance committee’ that it can pass any directions deemed appropriate for parliamentary functionaries’ expenditure and overrule any matter related to advance and adjustment of amount incurred on members and the staff.

The committee also approved all the recommendations made by the sub-committee constituted to examine the reported unauthorised use of maintenance allocations on salary and allowances by CDA and to make recommendations for proper allocation and utilisation of maintenance budget of the parliament building, parliament lodges and committee chairperson offices. According to the Members of the Parliament (Salaries & Allowance) Act, 1974, the MNAs are entitled to a salary and allowances up to Rs71,326 per month that include monthly salary Rs27,377, Ad-hoc allowance (2010) Rs11,903, Office Maintenance Allowance Rs8,000, Telephone Allowance Rs10,000, Sumptuary Allowance Rs5,000, Ad-hoc Relief Allowance (2011) Rs3,571, Ad-hoc Relief Allowance (2012) Rs5,475.

On TA/DA for attending sessions/committee meetings, they are entitled to per day allowances of Daily Allowance Rs1,000, Conveyance Allowance Rs750 and Housing Allowance Rs2,000, making it a total Rs 3,750 per day. They are entitled to Travelling Allowance as: By Air= Business Class + Rs150, By Rail= ACC + One 2nd Class, By Road= Rs10 per km. Free Travel: (a) travel vouchers Rs300,000 per annum or cash allowance Rs90,000 per annum (b) twenty business class return air tickets per annum, one Telephone at residence and medical facilities as available to Class-I government officer.

On the other hand, NA standing committee on parliamentary affairs is striving hard for enhancement of the members’ salaries and allowances. in its April 3 meeting it recommended increase these to the upper limit for salaries of the federal secretaries. The move comes at a time when prices of essential commodities have registered a decline.