The recent meeting between the National Finance Commission Award participants did not result in successful talks regarding several major points including an additional funds request by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for merging and rehabilitating the tribal areas under its jurisdiction and revamping the tax system with FBR. While Finance Minister Asad Umar was accurate in his call for making progress and reaching consensus over various issues, the task remained difficult for several reasons.
It is widely known that Pakistan is largely surviving on foreign grants and aid. Every time another country finds a soft spot for Pakistan, which is trying to develop and improve its ways, Pakistan sees a boost in its finances. Still, that boost is derived from loans or handouts from organisations, such as the IMF, from which things are expected in return. Thus, perpetually being cash-strapped, it was no surprise that at the NFC meeting, there was discord with regard to who gets funding and how much.
Our provinces remain in need of funds for various reasons — be it Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Where some provinces direly require additional funding for security upkeep, others need funding for infrastructure development. To arrive at sound decisions, the group’s collective call for data sharing and transparency are widely acclaimed. Data sharing will help assess how awards should be divided. For example, the size of each province as well as the most dire needs of its residents, be it security or rehabilitation, should be evaluated against grant sizes. The spirit of the NFC award is that funds are measured out equitably and for this, data serves as evidence.
Harmony among provinces is also critical and a sort of team building needs to take place to engender trust. The absence of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah at the last NFC meeting did not help the situation. When the next meeting convenes in April to focus on the merger of erstwhile Fata, the presence of officials from all provinces will be significant to create a strong basis for launching meaningful and productive talks about the equalisation and distribution of funds.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2019.
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