ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Thursday reconstituted the Council of Common Interests (CCI), with an overwhelming representation from Punjab, amid emerging crucial issues like census results and gas allocations.

Even more surprisingly, the notification to that effect came from the prime minister whereas the Constitution mandates the president to do so.

Under the notification, the eight-member council headed by the prime minister will now have four members from Punjab. The previous CCI, under former premier Nawaz Sharif, had two members each from the four provinces.

“Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has reconstituted the composition of Council of Common Interests,” said the notification issued by the PM Office.

Balochistan, KP lose one member each; Sindh continues to have two representatives

This is a rare move because it is the president who is empowered under Article 153 of the Constitution to appoint the CCI. It says: “There shall be a Council of Common Interests…to be appointed by the President.”

With the reconstitution of the CCI, two smaller provinces — Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — have lost one member each due to the increase in the number of Punjab representatives, while Sindh will continue to have two members in the council.

Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi, federal Minister for Industries and Production, has replaced Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Sadruddin Shah Rashdi.

The PM Office said the CCI would be chaired by the prime minister, with four provincial chief ministers and federal ministers for inter-provincial coordination, industries and production and finance as its members.

This means that besides PM Abbasi, other three members from Punjab will be Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Mohammad Yousaf from KP and Minister for States and Frontier Regions retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch from Balochistan were part of the CCI under Nawaz Sharif. They have now been excluded.

The change in the CCI composition has a critical significance because its decisions are taken through majority opinion. Clause 4 of Article 154 requires that “the decisions of the Council shall be expressed in terms of the opinion of the majority”.

Effectively, the federal government could have an overwhelming majority of six out of eight members in certain cases of Centre’s interest by chipping in Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri belonging to the PML-N and Industries and Production Minister Murtaza Jatoi.

A senior official claimed that there was no constitutional requirement to have equal representation from the provinces and Article 153(2) empowered the prime minister to nominate three federal ministers to the CCI from time to time without any bar.

The change in the CCI composition comes at a time when a host of crucial matters required decision making, including approval of the sixth national census results, the first-ever national water policy and allocation of new gas finds to domestic consumers.

A meeting of the previous CCI had been scheduled for July 31 to take up these matters, but it could not be held because of disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister by the Supreme Court on July 28 in the Panama Papers case.

A fresh date for the meeting is being finalised in consultation with the provinces. The items on the agenda of the meeting include the national water policy, implementation of Article 154 of the Constitution that seeks to have a permanent secretariat for the CCI, functions and powers and provision of 1,200 cusecs of water to Karachi under the K-IV project and a water dispute between Balochistan and Sindh.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2017