PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will submit a spending plan to a subgroup of the 9th National Finance Commission (NFC) to convince the governments of other provinces to contribute to the development of merged districts.
The decision was made during a meeting of the NFC’s subgroup-V in Islamabad on March 19 with KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra in the chair.
Minutes of the meeting available with Dawn show divergence of opinion among provinces over the committing of three percent of the 9th NFC Award for the development of KP’s war-torn tribal region.
Will submit spending plan in this respect to NFC’s subgroup
The 10 years Fata Development Programme has proposed the Rs1 trillion spending on the development of merged districts.
The minutes said KP finance secretary Shakeel Qadir Khan told participants, including his counterparts and NFC members from other provinces that consultations for Fata integration culminated in a 2016 Sartaj Aziz committee report after 15 years long deliberations, which recommended committing three percent of the NFC award for the uplift of the tribal region.
The secretary said on Dec 31, 2018, the federal, Punjab and KP governments had committed to contributing three percent of their NFC award share for the development of the merged districts.
He said the region had been governed in adhoc manner for the last 70 years and its future prosperity of the country was inextricably linked to that region.
KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra asked Sindh and Balochistan to contribute to the integration of merged areas saying if two federating units don’t participate in the nation building activity, then the federation was ‘put in a very odd light’.
However, NFC members from both the Punjab and Balochistan objected to Prime Minister making a commitment about provincial shares as under the constitution, NFC is the relevant forum for resource distribution not the premier.
The finance secretary of Balochistan told the meeting that the province principally supported the development of merged areas but its own financial position was such that it could only managed to pay the salaries of own employees and had no room for making any contributions for the development of merged areas.
He said his province’s poverty statistics were as grim as those of merged areas, while Punjab’s member NFC sought a bankable plan before committing money.
“No commitment can be logically secured without a plan addressing those fundamental questions,” the member said, adding that the federal government should have a specific subvention for the purpose instead of disturbing the provincial share at minimum.
However, Mr Jhagra told the meeting that the monetary commitment for Fata-KP merger was the decision of the previous government and that there was no point of revisiting the consensual decisions.
NFC members of both Punjab and Balochistan said that discussion of interim arraignment was out of NFC purview, which had mandate to decide resource distribution for next five years. However, KP secretary finance responded saying that Council of Common Interest had referred this matter to the NFC.
“We are talking about two phases of any such commitment for merged area and first stage is the time period till a new NFC award is concluded which may presumably go up to 2020 and second stage was post NFC award,” Mr. Qadir told the meeting.
Sindh’s NFC member said though he agreed in principle to make a contribution to the merged areas integration, the forum should come up with an assessment plan before deciding on what contributions to make and how instead of imposing an arbitrary three percent contribution.
Sindh’s finance secretary seconded his member’s views saying the province needs a work and cash plan before they could make any commitment.
He questioned KP’s ability to utilise Rs100 billion every year, which comes to Rs8 billion per month.
The secretary doubted if that money could be spent in such a difficult terrain and said if it wasn’t spent, then what would happen to the opportunity cost of the money lying around, the minutes revealed.
The NFC member from Punjab also asked KP to come up with a detailed spending plan, incorporating need assessment and spending and this analysis should be placed before the same forum within a month or so.
Mr Jhagra agreed with the demands for a spending plan and said the province had come up with a 10 years development plan for Fata two years ago, which needed little update.
The forum agreed to discuss the issue in its next meeting to be held in Lahore.
In concluding remarks, Mr Jhagra said KP would soon submit a spending plan to the forum to facilitate its decision-making and to secure commitments from the province.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2019