Centre to province: Devolution may be good but a lot of loose ends need to be tied up

Nationalists, experts, politicians discuss National Finance Commission award.

Express July 14, 2011


Putting the 18th Constitutional Amendment in place will be as much of an uphill task as it was to have it passed because of possible resistance from “vested interests”, warns Kaiser Bengali, the Sindh adviser on planning and development.

A debate on the law that brought about devolution - a process that gives power to the provinces from the Centre - took place on Tuesday. Several high-profile commentators, such as former advocate general for Sindh Yousuf Laghari and the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Taj Haider, gave their input. The biggest question was how money would be divided among the federal and provincial governments now that devolution had taken place. How does the formula or the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award fit into this picture?

For his part, Laghari denounced the process of resource distribution from the centre to the provinces. “It should have been vice versa,” he said. “Does the Sindh Assembly have any constitutional authority over the Pakistan Railways or the power distribution companies which operate in its province?”

Laghari also took beef with the fact that the provinces will get money depending on their population numbers - and not how much revenue they generate. This means that a whopping 82% of financial resources will be divided on the basis of population. The remaining three determinants - poverty, revenue collection and inverse population density - are 10.3%, 5% and 2.7%. “The current Sindh budget is getting 55% from the NFC and 45% from taxes,” said Laghari. “In contrast, the Punjab budget has 81% from the NFC and the remaining from taxes.”

Dr Dodo Mehri, a Sindhi nationalist leader, endorsed Laghari’s point of view, adding that the federal government kept 17 departments, now devolved to the provinces, for as long as forty years without rightful authority. “This devolution testifies to the fact that the longtime stance of the nationalist parties was valid.”

He cited Badin as an example of the unfair distribution of resources. “While the district produces around 45% of the country’s natural gas, it is paid only 2.5% in a royalty,” he said, adding that to top it off the area has been blighted by long drought, sea intrusion and a lack of development.

Haider Shahani of the Sindh Tarraqi Passand Party also argued for using the population census to determine who gets how much of the pie. “Sindh’s population has increased at a faster pace than that of other provinces mainly due to immigration but the NFC award is based on the 1998 census,” he said.

There was, however, one man who associated the Pakistani conundrum with global reference by mentioning the invisible occupiers as the actual authority who call the shots. “Third world countries, though we may call ourselves independent Pakistan, Indian or Sri Lanka, are still slaves of imperialists,” said veteran politician Rasool Bux Palijo, who is the chairman of the Awami Tehreek. “We mention official corruption in development schemes but we never ponder over corruption in the loans for development offered by the international financial institutions as aid.”

The two men, Taj Haider and Kaiser Bengali, representing the government read out from their presentations instead of speaking extempore. Reading out from his 14-page report, Haider dilated on the two constitutional acts but this did not appeal to the audience that was pretty fed up with repeated details.

Bengali chose to talk about the government’s development plans in Sindh. He said 6,064 kilometres of roads have been identified for repair and asphalt work. Seven highways are planned. “Sindh is an agrarian economy. One of the biggest troubles the growers face is market road access.” He praised the government’s free housing and drainage scheme under which 236 two-room homes have been built in 45 villages. “The current budget has set aside funds for the construction of free homes in 200 villages with each village comprising at least 200 families,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2011.

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