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Strengthening the federation

By Mohammad Jamil       

Sallust, Roman historian, one of the great Latin literary stylist and a great philosopher argued: “By union the smallest states thrive. By discord the greatest are destroyed.” Pakistan has all the ingredients like fertile land mass, four seasons, deep-sea ports and over and above all hard working people not only could make it thrive but also make it a great nation. However, it is  imperative to take measures to build up confidence of the nation, strengthen our political system and institutions, develop a dynamic and sustainable growth, eradicate corruption, provide timely justice, enhance employment, undertake steps for population control, seek consensus based political solutions, and resolve ethnic, sectarian and religious fault lines. In fact, there is need to bring about a basic change in the system

The nation has displayed rare unity in rejecting religious shysters, extremists and terrorists, and most political parties stand for elimination of terrorism and extremism in every form and manifestation. The issue of divisible pool’s apportionment had kept the federal and provincial governments, haggling, bickering and at loggerheads. However, the ruling elite appear to have realized that strength of the federation hinges on strengthening the federating units. It was the first time in the history of Pakistan that there was consensus that federating units got major share of the divisible pool, which was 56 per cent in 2010 and 57.5 percent for the following four years. The multiple criteria for distribution between the federating units to compensate the provinces that were neglected in the past are reflective of a change in the mindset of the lawmakers.
Yet the federal government sometimes takes decisions that run counter to the provisions of the Constitution. Recently, five regulatory authorities i.e. Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Frequency Allocation Board (FAB), Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) have been brought under the respective ministries. Similar attempt was made in December 2016, in which Administrative Control of same five Regulatory Bodies was placed under concerned Ministries, but this time around complete control has been given to the ministries concerned. Earlier, decision of Federal Government was challenged in Lahore High Court and Islamabad High Court by Civil Society and the same was suspended by Lahore High Court in February 2017 and Islamabad High Court on the plea that Prime Minister issued notification without approval of the Council of Common Interest (CCI).

However, some good decisions were taken by the previous government with regard to National Finance Commission award. In 2010, Chief Ministers of Punjab and Sindh had agreed on the multiple-criteria to compensate the neglected provinces. In developed countries, where almost all parts of the country are developed equitably, the allocation of resources on population basis alone is the logical way, but in a country like Pakistan where the federating units differ widely in terms of GDP, per capita income, population density, ability to raise taxes, allocation from the divisible pool on population basis alone would have been unfair. Anyhow, in NFC Award, weightage has been given in resource allocation to bridge the gap between the lowest and highest per capita income, and provincial GDP. Special allocation to Balochistan for land mass was a step in the right direction.

There are still differences over gas and electricity royalties for the provinces, and this task should be entrusted to an independent body. Provincial finance commissions should also be set up for fiscal discipline, resource mobilization and resource distribution within each province. To strengthen the devolution process, the Provincial Finance Commission awards should be constituted to allocate resources to the local bodies. There should be a permanent NFC secretariat with sufficient financial resources to conduct independent economic surveys to establish the Gross Provincial Product (GPP) and determine the income levels of each province to close the gaps, which would go a long way in creating harmony between the federation and the federating units. The provinces require financial resources to be able to maintain the social and physical infrastructure needed to provide basic services to the people.
The problem is that Pakistan has remained in the throes of political and economic instability for major part of seventy years since 1947. All shades of governments, democratically elected, Martial Law governments or in the name of some other denomination failed to deliver and forge unity in the ranks of federating units. However, the matter of autonomy, which was a festering sore all along, was settled by the 18th amendment to the Constitution. There seems to be realization on the part of major political parties that in a federation like Pakistan, the only way to eliminate the sense of alienation amongst the smaller provinces and guarantee the unity and stability of the country is to ensure socio-economic justice and devolution of power so as to give the people a sense of empowerment and participation in the affairs of the country.

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