Until recently, Balochistan would always look towards the federal government for financial support in order to balance the provincial books at the time of budget-making. At the same time, almost every politician in the province, and sometimes even the provincial government, would blame Islamabad for plundering Balochistan’s natural resources. The situation, however, changed after the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award was announced, in 2009, and the 18th constitutional amendment was passed in 2010, allowing greater provincial autonomy and better access for the provinces to national financial resources.
Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, the chief minister of Balochistan, was part of the parliamentary bodies that made these landmark developments possible. He is also a strong advocate of decentralisation of power from the federal government to the provincial ones. Here, the Herald discusses with him the past, present and the future of the 18th amendment and whether the NFC award has changed financial management at the provincial level. Excerpts follow:
Q. After the passage of the 18th amendment you had hoped, in an earlier interview with the Herald, that along with the NFC award, the amendment would provide more financial resources to Balochistan. Now that you have made the provincial budget for 2013-14, how would you describe the impact of the two developments?
A. By and large, the 18th amendment and the NFC award indicate a positive change of the mindset we identify as ‘centralist’. It was, however, unfortunate for Balochistan that it had a government [in 2008-2013] that did not show interest in the implementation of the 18th amendment. We complain about Balochistan’s natural resources but how many people who had been at the helm of affairs know that the 1973 Constitution gave the provinces complete control over their mineral resources (even prior to the passage of the 18th amendment). The previous Balochistan government first handed over the Sandak [gold and copper mining] project to the federal government and then, last year, it extended the Chinese mining company’s contract [for working on the project] for another five years instead of taking over the project.
Q. Will your government end the agreement with the Chinese company and take over the Sandak project?
A. After the 18th amendment, the provinces are bound to abide by international agreements. In the case of Sandak, an extension was granted with the consent of the provincial government. But, I shall look into the agreement and do what is best for Balochistan.
Q. What about the NFC award? Has it been good for Balochistan?
A. The NFC award has certainly helped improve the financial condition of Balochistan. Unfortunately, the federal government has not stopped playing its tricks. Though the province’s share in the NFC has been increased, its share in the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) has been reduced. Last year, 40 billion rupees were allocated for Balochistan [in PSDP] but only nine billion rupees were released. I have asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to allocate whatever amount of money he likes for Balochistan [in PSDP] but I also want him to ensure that all the allocated money is released to the province.
Q. Balochistan has always cried foul over what politicians in the province call the plundering of its natural gas and crude oil resources by the federal government. The 18th amendment gives joint ownership of the state-owned exploration and distribution companies to the provinces. What has Balochistan done to get its share in the ownership of such companies?
A. According to my interpretation of the relevant clause of the 18th amendment, the federal petroleum ministry should have been abolished soon after the 18th amendment became part of the constitution. In its place, there should have been a directorate for facilitating the provinces which are producing gas and oil. A large chunk of Balochistan’s gas and petroleum resources are being explored by the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) and the Pakistan Petroleum Limited.
The ownership of these corporations should have been automatically transferred to Balochistan proportionate to the province’s share in oil and gas production, but that did not happen. We shall raise this issue in the Council of Common Interests (CCI). It is no use seeking only jobs in these companies for Balochistan’s people. The 18th amendment gives Balochistan much more than that and we shall raise our voice for what we deserve.
Q. The current federal government of Pakistan Muslim League-–Nawaz (PMLN), which is your coalition partner in the province, has endorsed the previous government’s decision of handing over Gwadar Port to a Chinese company. How do you see this decision in the context of provincial autonomy?
A. You know, I was not ready to sign the 18th amendment because the federal government was keeping the subject of big ports with it. But the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) convinced the representatives from Balochistan in the parliamentary committee which was drafting the amendment, which specified that control of the Karachi port and Port Qasim will fall into the hands of ‘undesirable’ people if big ports were given to the provinces.
The PPP government gave us a signed commitment that it will give control of Gwadar Port to Balochistan through special legislation. A board for Gwadar Port was to be formed under this special legislation, giving 51 per cent representation to Balochistan; the chief minister, by virtue of his office, would have been the chairman of that board. But the PPP did not keep its promise. Now we shall raise this issue in the CCI.
Q. But big ports are a federal legislative subject now…
A. You are right. But we shall ask Prime Minister Sharif to do what is needed, even though he is not responsible for what happened in the past. We do not want to indulge in a constitutional conflict, but the port cannot become operational if Balochistan does not provide its land for various port-related activities.
I have asked for a copy of the federal government’s agreement with the Chinese company. If it is in the interest of Balochistan, then we shall have no objection to it. Otherwise, we shall strive for rectifying the situation and resolving the issue amicably, and not through confrontation.
Q. What about road and rail links from Khanjrab to Gwadar, which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced to build and the Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline?
A. We shall see what benefit Balochistan can have from road and rail links. If Balochistan benefits from these projects, we shall not oppose them but if they are designed ignoring our interests we shall raise our voice in appropriate forums for safeguarding the province’s interests. If they prove disastrous for Balochistan, then we shall oppose them. As far as the Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline is concerned, it has to be seen where the money will come from for its completion. We shall give our response when Pakistan starts laying down the pipeline.