Centralised federalism Vs provincial autonomy

Centralised federalism Vs provincial autonomy http://www.vanguardbooks.org/cgi-bin/uservalidate2.pl


Malik Siraj Akbar writes how can one believe that the federal government is interested in granting maximum autonym to the provinces when it is not even ready to respect resolutions passed by their assemblies



On November 11, the Balochistan Assembly completed four years, making it the first assembly since 1985 to have entered the fourth year of its five-year tenure.

On this occasion, a special session of the Assembly was convened to review the performance of the House. While Chief Minister Jam Mohammad Yousaf boasted of the Assembly’s uninterrupted, meritorious functioning in addressing public problems, opposition members did not agree.

“The Balochistan Assembly has proved to be the weakest and least powerful vis-à-vis the federal government and the presidency,” says one observer. “Since Balochistan is visibly remote-controlled from Islamabad, resolutions passed by the provincial assembly hardly influence the decision-makers in Islamabad.” As opposition MPA Rehmat Baloch out it: “The existence or otherwise of an assembly in Balochistan makes no difference to the people. An assembly is meant to debate public problems and find out a solution. But in Balochistan’s case, all decisions are imposed by Islamabad.”

The opposition supported by some sections of the treasury benches remains skeptical with regards to the autonomy of the Balochistan Assembly. The opposition and treasury benches are all dissatisfied by the attitude of the federal government towards Balochistan. On more than one occasion, sitting ministers have spoken vocally against Islamabad on its militaristic designs and financial matters.

During its 4th parliamentary year, the Balochistan Assembly addressed 170 questions and passed 16 out of 36 resolutions tabled by opposition benches. A total number of eight privilege motions were moved on the floor of the house out of which five were entertained by the Speaker, Jamal Shah Kakar. Moreover, 89 adjournment motions were tabled among which 33 were settled.

In the past four years, as many as 58 resolutions from the government and 203 from the opposition were passed on the floor of the Balochistan Assembly. About 1405 questions, 102 privilege motions and 323 adjournment motions were tabled and addressed. Some nine committees, formulated to probe various matters and submit their recommendations, managed to table their reports. The implementation of the recommendations made by these reports, however, remains debatable.

Among a few significant resolutions passed unanimously by the government and the opposition in Balochistan is the one that vociferously denounced the government plans to construct cantonments in three districts of Balochistan: Gwadar, Dera Bugti and Kohlu. “Construction of cantonments without the consent of public representatives is the main reason behind the current standoff in Balochistan,” states a senior observer, adding, “Islamabad had to pay heed to public sentiments in the province in order to avert serious trouble.”

This issue is one that really highlights the basic lack of autonomy and power. Despite this resolution against cantonments, Islamabad is building them and will continue to because it believes “Balochistan’s development is largely intertwined with the construction of cantonments”.

Similarly, government and opposition members in Balochistan have also not been very pleased with Islamabad on financial matters. Given the financial crunch the province is presently going through, Maulana Abdul Wasey, a senior minister from the MMA and Syed Ehsan Shah, the finance minister, have been among the most vocal critics of the Center. The Balochistan Assembly has been repeatedly demanding the issuance of a new formula for the National Finance Commission (NFC) award in order to ensure the just distribution of natural resources.

“If population is kept as the sole yardstick for the distribution of the NFC award, Balochistan will never develop because we make up 3 percent of the population but cover 43% of Pakistan’s territory,” Maulana Wasey told TFT. “It was because of this reason that we have a deficit budget of Rs10.96 billion this year. Balochistan’s large area and backwardness should also be kept in mind while distributing national resources. It is sad that Islamabad has no regard even for the recommendations made by the provincial assembly and its attitude towards the province is derogatory because it pretends to be giving ‘charity’ to Balochistan in the shape of grants,” he added.

“We want our actual constitutional rights, not charity. Why doesn’t the Center issue a just and new formula for the NFC despite an inordinate delay of four years since its expected issuance,” asks Wasey.

In another unanimously passed resolution, the Balochistan Assembly demanded of the federal government to assure the people of Balochistan that they would be given maximum benefits from the proposed multi-billion 2600 km gas Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Expectedly, the province got no assurances from Islamabad in this regard.

“This is a major part of the problem,” states a senior journalist, “that Islamabad is even unwilling to pay heed to the very genuine demands of the province and is bent upon enforcing its decisions from the top.” He asks: “How can one believe that the government is interested in granting maximum autonym to the provinces when it is not even ready to respect resolutions passed by the assemblies?”

Opposition parties also maintain that since Balochistan Assembly is the representative body of the masses, it should also be given the right to debate controversial mega projects. An MPA from National Party says mega projects were launched in the province without taking anyone in confidence.

“We have our reservations regarding the mega projects, especially the Gwadar Port,” says Rehmat Baloch of NP. “We should be assured that the developments taking place in Gwadar are not designed to convert us into a minority in out won land and the first beneficiary of the economic benefits and job opportunities would be the people of Balochistan,” he adds.

( Published in The Friday Times, November 17-23, 2006 )

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