ISLAMABAD: Attempting to allay the concerns of the federating units regarding the delay in payment of outstanding funds, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday assured the provinces that pending funds would be released before May.
He extended this assurance while chairing a meeting of Council of Common Interests (CCI) at the Prime Minister’s Office, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Sindh Chief Minister (CM) Murad Ali Shah, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa CM Pervaiz Khattak, Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, and Punjab Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha attended the meeting.
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The CCI meeting started in the morning and continued till the evening. Several crucial issues including the pending development funds payable by the centre to the provinces, progress on the audit of population census and related issues were discussed in the meeting which were not mentioned in a press release issued after the meeting.
Sources said the CMs of KP and Sindh told the PM that the federal bureaucracy was creating “unnecessary hurdles” in the release of development funds to the provinces, while both the provinces needed funds to complete infrastructure and energy projects ahead of the general elections. Reportedly, the PM instructed the federal finance authorities to expedite the release of funds to the provinces. Reportedly, the Balochistan CM, who was attending his first CCI meeting after coming into power, was concerned that the federal government would halt the provision of funds to his province after the arrival of a ‘hostile’ government set-up in a province where the CM belongs to PML-Q, a rival party of PML-N.
The PM conveyed to Bizenjo that federal government would resolve the issues related to funds and urgent steps would be taken in this regard, regardless of political differences, said a government official.
“This is an election year and all governments need funds to complete megaprojects before going into the polls. Given that opposition parties are in power in three provinces, their concerns about delays in the release of funds are understandable. They have to be redressed,” the source said.
He said that the provinces also took up the issues concerning the audit of population blocs in the light of the results of census 2017 and it was decided to further review the matter in detail in the CCI’s next meeting expected sometime soon before the issuance of final audit results. In November last year, the centre and the provinces had agreed at the CCI meeting to have five per cent of the population results audit through random sampling.
The meeting was also briefed on matters pertaining to higher education and other similar bodies in the post-18th Amendment scenario. “The CCI noted that as per the constitution, formulation of standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institution is the responsibility of the federal government,” a statement from PM Office said. It was agreed that both the federal and provincial governments would undertake monitoring, evaluation and accreditation of such institutes, it added. The CCI also directed the Federal Ministry of Education to work on a proposal in consultation with all stakeholders for the establishment of a national level testing body for unified assessment standards across the country, it said. To further enhance representation of provinces in Higher Education Commission (HEC), it was decided that among the seven members – all prominent educationists –being appointed by the prime minister, representation of all the provinces will be ensured.
According to the PM Office statement, the CCI discussed gas and electricity management by the provinces including generation, transmission, and distribution.
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The CCI deliberated upon the issue of problems being faced by the sugarcane growers in timely payments on prescribed rates. “Expressing concerns, the prime minister directed Ministry of National Food Security to work with provinces for early resolution of the issue,” the statement said.
A Board of Investment (BOI) representative briefed the CCI regarding the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor). CCI directed provinces to submit bankable proposals and documents for the establishment of priority SEZs for early implementation.
While discussing power-related issues of Balochistan, the CCI directed Planning Commission and the Power Division to expedite energy projects in the province.
The meeting considered and assented to place draft Bill for the Establishment of National Metrology Institute of Pakistan, (NMIP) before the Parliament.
The CCI also decided that the federal government may devise a National Policy Framework for ensuring the wellbeing of the senior citizens in consultation with the provincial governments and relevant federal ministries.