BY SHABBIR MIR
The right to self-rule is what the people of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have long demanded. Such a mode of governance was introduced in 2009 by the PPP government in the shape of the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009.
It’s a separate debate whether this constitutional package was able to empower the regional government or not. However, one thing is for sure: it did empower former chief minister Syed Mehdi Shah, who extracted the most out of this piece of legislation.
During the last year of his five-year term as chief minister, Shah entitled himself to a lifetime pension and other perks equivalent to that of a sitting chief minister. To make all of this happen, he sought the help of his cabinet which secretly passed an order to this effect. Interestingly, the bureaucracy, which is known for its red tape, gave in without any resistance.
“It’s a separate debate whether this constitutional package was able to empower the regional government or not.”
This decision entitled Shah to receive a Rs350,000 monthly pension besides an unlimited monthly health cover payment. In addition, he is also entitled to unlimited fuel, telephone facilities, a residence in a posh sector of Islamabad and the services of a security guard till his death. The ex-chief minister’s reckless use of public funds means a lot for the cash-starved region, whose total budget outlay this year was Rs27.64 billion. And of that amount, only Rs9.6 billion were allocated for the development sector. Though there were rumours doing the rounds regarding what is now being called the ‘underhand deal’ of Shah, it was only first confirmed by the former federal minister for G-B and Kashmir Affairs, Barjees Tahir after he assumed the additional charge of governor of G-B last month.
Tahir’s revelations regarding Shah’s lifelong perks and benefits surfaced only after the latter raised objections over the former’s appointment as governor, terming it an attempt to rig the upcoming elections in G-B. While the revelation triggered sharp reaction in G-B, Shah insisted he didn’t commit any wrong. According to him, if a retired judge of G-B is entitled to a monthly pension of Rs500,000, why can’t he be entitled to such a luxury since he is the first chief minister in the history of the region.
The lifetime entitlement can rightly be dubbed a ‘slap’ in the face of the Empowerment Order, which has been used for personal gain instead of for the welfare of the public. The half-broken roads in towns across G-B and 22 hours of load-shedding are just a few examples that speak volumes about the misuse of power during the five years of ‘self-governance’. Now that corruption and misappropriation of funds in G-B have been exposed, it remains to be seen whether the government holds the culprits accountable or not.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2015.