KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly unanimously passed on Tuesday a resolution calling for the immediate formation of the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC) Award, which is long since due. The resolution, supported by both treasury and opposition benches, was moved by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPA Bilal Ahmed. "It recommends holding an intra-party parliamentary session to formulate the structure of the PFC Award," the resolution reads.
For the first time, the House agreed on this issue and the lawmakers demanded finalisation of the commission award for the empowerment of the local bodies and district government as soon as possible. In his speech, Ahmed referred to Article 140-A of the Constitution and said, "Under this article, the provincial government must devolve resources at the grassroots level to empower the local bodies, but this never happens". He added that the last PFC Award was given in 2004 and the Sindh Local Government Act 2013 also mentions that the resources be given to Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), district municipal corporations (DMCs) and the union councils and committees in the province.
He was of the view that the Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) government always claims to participate in grassroots level politics, but has turned a blind eye to this important issue. "We need the PFC Award on multiple criteria including revenue, population, and backwardness, etc. I request this House to adopt the resolution so that the provincial government can distribute funds vertical and horizontally," he said. According to the PTI MPA, the issues confronted by people living in Sindh can't be resolved until funds are provided at the grassroots level as is the case in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani supported the resolution but did not further debate on it.
Javeed Hanif, of Muttahida Qaumi Movement - Pakistan (MQM-P), appreciated the Sindh government for its support and said, "PFC award is too late, but should be now be introduced without any delay".
Hanif, who is a retired bureaucrat, briefed the House about the three-tier system of government including the federal, provincial and local governments, which according to him must work independently. He accused PPP and Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) of discouraging the local government structure because both the parties did not want to allocate resources for the empowerment of the LG system.
He suggested giving 55% of the resources to the local councils, who are currently getting hardly 6%. "Crises at the local councils can be measured from the fact that the mayor has no funds to pay the electricity bill," he added. The MQM-P MPA said that Karachi and other urban areas were being deprived and the sense of deprivation has led to the demand for a new province from Sindh. "If due rights are given, no one can talk of new provinces," he said.
The opposition leader, Firdous Shamim Naqvi, said that there should be a committee of members belonging to different parties that finalise the PFC award. "Let's finalise it within a week. No need for further delay," he remarked.
The assembly also adopted a resolution moved by Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal's (MMA) Abdul Rashid to establish rehabilitation centres for drug addicts in all government hospitals of Sindh.
During the session, Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani drew the attention of the House towards the empty seats and remarked, "Today is private members day and the members are supposed to bring their resolutions and bills. But I am shocked at the low attendance and many empty seats on opposition and treasury sides". He added that it looked as if the members were not interested in the business.
Naqvi agreed with the speaker's contention and said that he would persuade the opposition members to ensure attendance. "There are a number of issues faced by our MPAs too. They ask questions from various departments but don't get answers for months. This is also discouraging," he remarked.
When the question and answer session started, Grand Democratic Alliance MPA Nusrat Sehar Abbasi asked the minister for law and parliamentary affairs about a scheme for two court buildings which are supposed to be completed in Khipro, Sanghar district by June this year. "Around Rs55 million have been allocated for this scheme and funds have also been released. I want to know why the government has not yet spent a single penny on it," she said.
Excise, Taxation and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla said that the scheme was approved in October 2017 and the tender is in progress. "I agree that we have not spent the funds, but there were financial constraints. We admit that the people face many issues due to delay in initiating such schemes," he said.
Arif Mustafa Jatoi of GDA inquired about the number of labour courts in Sindh and also their functions.
Chawla said that there are around eight labour courts in various districts of Sindh. The courts deal with labour activities and disputes between factory owners and workers. When asked about the number of cases pending in courts, the minister said 1,074 cases have been decided, but he failed to inform the house about the pendency of the cases. "I don't know about the number of pending cases, but will inform the House about it later on," he said.
On secrecy oath
Arif Mustafa Jatoi, of National Peoples Party, moved a private bill, Sindh Advisers (Appointments, Powers, Functions, Salaries, Allowances, Privileges) Amendment Bill 2019. The bill was introduced as the government supported it. In his brief speech, Jatoi said that before the 18th Amendment, there was no provision for the post of adviser in provincial governments and it rested exclusively with the federal government. He went on to say that earlier, only the prime minister was allowed to appoint five advisers.
After the 18 Amendment, he added, an additional provision was introduced that also allowed the provincial governments to induct advisers. "As you know that the adviser attends cabinet meetings, which are technically secret and many issues are discussed there," said Jatoi and added that while the ministers take an oath to not reveal the matters discussed in the meetings, the advisers are not under any such obligations. The advisors should also be legally bound to maintain secrecy. "The minister is under an obligation to not reveal secrets or decisions, but the adviser in present circumstances is above the law. I request the government to bind advisers to maintain secrecy," Jatoi said.
While speaking on the bill, Ghani termed it an important legislation and said, "There are some flaws in existing law and we should make amendments to it." According to Ghani, he had also taken up this issue in the Senate when he was a senator. He added that the standing committee in the Senate had also shown its approval on this matter. He added that the advisers attend the national assembly sessions and the same thing should be a practice in the provincial assembly as well. "I think we should refer this law to a committee and add a provision so that advisers can take an oath and attend the assembly proceedings." The bill was later referred to a standing committee for review.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2019.