When parliamentarians visit Islamabad to attend to official business – such as attending assembly sessions, standing committee meetings and other policy making initiatives – they live in parliament lodges located right across the National Assembly building.
From the outside, the complex appears to be a fitting abode for affluent lawmakers. But inside, the place is plagued by all the problems the common man faces in this country: poor infrastructure, security issues and political influence.
Arshad Leghari, a member of the National Assembly on a PML-N ticket, tells The Express Tribune how he acquired his room: “I took over this room, with my resources.” When asked to elaborate, he smiled and added that it took him nearly a year of “running around” to finally gain possession of the room he now resides in.”We shouldn’t have to wait so long.”
As per the rules, each new parliamentarian is allotted a room against the one made vacant by an outgoing one. Leghari insists that in practice such an acquisition is actually quite a tedious process.
Leghari adds that his problems did not end with the occupation of the room. A few months later, when his servant arrived from the village, he asked for the quarter that is allotted to every parliamentarian living there.
To his amazement, administrative records showed the quarter was already in use. Upon a visit though, Leghari saw that a sheet of paper bearing his name was pasted on the door. He says that a man walked out of the door and boldly claimed to be Leghari’s servant. “We asked him to move out immediately and he quietly left after finding out it was me he was pretending to be an imposter servant of.”
Besides illegal occupants, parliamentarians also face the problem of encroachments. A drive in 2010 to demolish illegal construction inside the compound met with a lot of resistance. Similar structures have begun to sprout again.
Verandahs in front of the elevator areas have been occupied and a number of guards and servants were seen residing in these encroachments. MNAs and senators that spoke to this correspondent agreed that more non-parliamentarians than parliamentarians are occupying the lodges.
According to administrative records managed by the Capital Development Authority (CDA), there are currently 362 lodges. Of these, 276 are for MNAs, while 82 are for senators. The other four are being used by the administration.
To make more space available in an effort to curb encroachments, the CDA is building a new block expected to be completed in a year or so. However, parliamentarians remain skeptical of the utilization of funds, alleging that they are being misappropriated. In 2011-2012, a budget of Rs188 million was allocated for the lodges. Shagufta Sadiq alleges that the CDA is involved in corruption related to the spending of the allocated budget. “There are a huge number of employees drawing salaries from the lodges’ budget. People think we are living in a lot of comfort, but we face the same problems everyone else does.”
Shagufta Sadiq, an MQM parliamentarian on a reserved seat, says the weapons on display make her uncomfortable: “There are men with guns and it is quite scary to see this. I pray to keep us safe from an act of terrorism here at the lodges. It is possible.”
Her biggest concern, however, is the lack of security checks on people entering the complex. Sadiq adds that even though she is a member of the parliamentary committee which looks after the affairs of the lodges, she too feels helpless.
Sadiq maintains that being a female parliamentarian in a male-dominated area makes her feel perpetually unsafe. She also claims of being harassed once. A man arrived at her door at around midnight and started ringing the bell insisting that another MNA lived there. “I called for security but they came 15 minutes later, and by that time the intruder was gone.”
She complains that there are no individual guards for each building and anyone can enter the block. “There have been so many thefts, and there no CCTV cameras to identify the culprits.”
When asked if the committee she is a part of has tried to introduce reforms, she rested the blame on the committee’s chairman, saying it was his duty to implement changes.
The chairman of this committee, who is the deputy speaker in the National Assembly, was unavailable for comment. But members of his party who have spent nearly ten years in these lodges have had to face similar problems.
Fauzia Wahab, a prominent parliamentarian from PPP, insists the ruling party is no more privileged than the others. “It is about being well connected to those who manage the affairs here.” She feels it is the servants of parliamentarians who cause most of the problems. “They are making money by subletting their rooms, for example.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2012.
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