Experts call for fiscal devolution, empowering CCI, local governments, highlight role of NFC for federal harmony

Islamabad: A functional Council of Common Interests (CCI) with its rules of business, consistent National Finance Commission (NFC) Award governed through subordinate legislation, and devolution of political, financial, and administrative authority empowering local governments are imperative to create the right environment to renew Pakistan’s commitment to federalism, uphold the constitution’s mandate, and protect its basics for the next 50 years.

This was highlighted by veteran statesmen, jurists, and constitutional experts during the concluding session of the two-day conference on ‘The Constitution of Pakistan: Lessons for Next 50 Years’ co-organized by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad, and the Department of Law, Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU), Rawalpindi.

The conference was addressed, among others, by Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, former senator, Khalid Rahman, chairman IPS, Owais Ahmed Ghani, former governor, Balochistan and KP, Amanullah Kanrani, Balochistan’s interim law minister, Dr Saima Hamid, former vice chancellor, FJWU, Prof Dr Shoaib Akhtar, dean, FJWU, Aftab Memon, former federal secretary, ministry of interprovincial coordination, Inayatuallah Khan, former minister for local governments, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Lt Gen (r) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, former federal minister for national security, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president, PILDAT, Prof Dr Aziz-ur-Rahman, director, School of Law, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Dr Nadia Khadam, head, Department of Law, FJWU, and Prof Dr Fakhr-ul-Islam, advisor research IPS and former DG, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Peshawar.

Emphasizing the fundamental principles upon which Pakistan was founded – unity amidst diversity and a strong federal structure – the speakers highlighted concerns related to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, underscoring the need for meaningful reforms.

As the 1973 Constitution inherently carries the characteristic of federalism, aimed at safeguarding provincial rights and fostering equitable socio-economic development, this unity remains pivotal to Pakistan’s survival.

However, there are rising concerns about the functionality of the CCI, meant to safeguard and protect the rights of the provinces, as its secretariat remains nonfunctional for all practical purposes, said Inayatullah Khan.

The issue has been compounded because there are no rules of business for the CCI even after 50 years, added Amanullah Kanrani.

The speakers said this dysfunctionality is undermining the spirit of federalism and fueling dissatisfaction among provinces because their rights are not being upheld.

Furthermore, the National Finance Commission (NFC) has failed to implement its Awards to the provinces. Since 2010, the succeeding NFCs have struggled to reach a consensus and implement awards within their stipulated time period, in violation of the constitution. Subordinated legislation is needed to govern NFC awards for consistency, emphasized the speakers.

The disarray in the relations between the center and provinces has compromised the inclusiveness of diverse ethnicities and units, said Aftab Memon. The 18th Amendment has created problems for the country in terms of financial inclusion and distribution of resources. He said it is imperative to revisit key federal issues such as the 18th Amendment and the separation of judiciary from the executive to address the challenges effectively.

The experts said an underlying issue is the post-18th Amendment scenario, in which the center failed to restructure devolved departments, resulting in a reduction in federal fiscal space. This reduction, they said, could be used to prepare grounds to invalidate the 18th Amendment, which would be an injustice to the country.

The speakers suggested that concerted coordination between the NFC and the provinces to provide funds may be a realistic alternative. The solution to the post-18th Amendment interprovincial disparities lies in Article 140(A) of the amendment, i.e., devolution of political, financial, and administrative authorities to local governments.

Moreover, a chapter should be included in the constitution regarding local governments so that the provincial governments cannot hinder the local government elections, as is currently being done, said the speakers. This will ensure the protection of the powers of local governments and elections at regular intervals for Pakistan’s democratic future.

“Failure of the political system means failure of the constitution,” said Owais Ghani while highlighting the false dynamics of the national political system. He underscored that political systems and national policies should be designed keeping in view that Pakistan is a natural state.

Khalid Rahman also stressed reform of the electoral system and adoption of the proportional representation system. He also urged revival of the local bodies in their true form as these act as nurseries for grooming future politicians.

On the other hand, Raja Zafar-ul-Haq urged for strengthening the bond between the legislature and judiciary so that the constitution can remain a beacon of hope for the people.

The most crucial aspect of the future democratic framework is the civil-military relation, said Ahmed Bilal. He stressed the way forward through civil-military dialogue, for which an active National Security Committee (NSC) provides an excellent forum. In this regard, people’s welfare and well-being must be the common goal of both the military, as the muscle of the nation, and civilians, as the brain, said Naeem Khalid.

The conference concluded that the right kind of environment is needed where everyone does their level best to implement the mandate of the Constitution and protect its basics for the next 50 years.

The conference included eight sessions on six major themes in which multi-disciplinary researchers from more than eight national and three international universities presented 25 papers on various research topics related to the 1973 Constitution.

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