ISLAMABAD: After a long uncertainty, the government is all set to approve holding the sixth census in March 2017 in a meeting of Council of Common Interests (CCI) that will take place on Friday.
According to documents and agenda of the CCI meeting issued by the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC), the census is the priority of the 30th CCI meeting where the prime minister will take the four chief ministers into confidence and build consensus on the issue before an announcement.
On December 6, the federal government assured the apex court that it will hold census on March 17 next year. The exercise, which is due since 2008, will continue for the next two months.
The federal government under the second regime of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz carried out the last census in 1998 when the population was found to be 132 million. Since then successive governments have avoided holding population count for one reason or another.
The second important topic to be discussed in the CCI meeting will be the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) whose route has been a bone of contention among federal and provincial governments since its announcement.
On October 30, the PM chaired a special meeting where he decided to assuage the provinces’ concerns on the CPEC at the upcoming CCI meeting in order to forge a political unity on the mega project that has been dubbed ‘a game-changer’.
A senior Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government official said that the K-P chief minister Pervez Khattak will raise several issues and concerns at the meeting.
“Besides the CPEC, the CM will also raise the issue of repatriation of temporarily displaced people from the tribal areas, repatriation of Afghan refugees, deployment of Frontier Constabulary to stop crossover of criminals from Fata and federal government’s ‘deliberate delay’ in issuing funds to the K-P,” he said.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has also been expressing reservations over non-inclusion of certain projects in the CPEC and has demanded that the concerns of the provinces be addressed.
However, the PM office has deferred discussing the transfer of regulatory authorities to respective ministries in the meeting. The issue of these bodies has been a hot debate in every CCI meeting since long where the provinces have protested about their shares and dues.
In July 2016, the IPC ministry had forwarded a summary to the PM requesting that all the subjects of federal regulatory authorities may be transferred to the ministry.
An IPC official told The Express Tribune that the PM house put off the agenda of regulatory authorities at the eleventh hour as no homework was done over the issue.
He said the issues raised by the provinces are mostly related to regulatory authorities – like Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, National Electric Power Regulatory Authority and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
These authorities, the official said, falls under the IPC after the 18th Amendment.
The CCI will also approve the National Forest Policy 2015 which will be presented by the Ministry of Climate Change. During review of agenda of previous meeting, the CCI will go through matters pertaining to Higher Education Commission (HEC) and other bodies in the post-18thAmendment scenario.
As per the documents, Sindh has submitted two amendments which seek to limit role of the federal HEC and handing over control of its funding to provinces. Punjab and the K-P have not opposed the presence of federal higher education body.
A decision in this regard is not likely to happen in the meeting as a separate committee headed by Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal will discuss the higher education issue.
Allocation of national security fund from divisible pool including flare gas utilisation guidelines 2016 along with revision of tight gas (exploration and production) policy 2016 is also on the CCI agenda.
It is also expected that the 10-year National Flood Protection Plan 2015-2025 worth Rs332.246 billion will be presented before the CCI. An official privy to this development, who wished not to be named, said that the CCI will approve the flood protection plan if the provincial governments accepted it without any reservation.
He said that the plan was delayed since 2007 mainly because of lack of interest of the authorities concerned. (With additional reporting from SEHRISH WASIF)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2016.