Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Devolution of power: Balochistan accuses Centre of trampling on its rights

By Shahbaz Rana

January 21, 2015

Chief minister rails against PML-N government

ISLAMABAD: Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch accused the federal government of violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution by overstepping its authority and encroaching on matters that should fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments, an accusation made unusual by the fact that the ruling party in Islamabad and Dr Malik’s National Party are coalition partners in Quetta.

The chief minister made these remarks while attending a session of the Balochistan Development Forum, a seminar conducted in Islamabad to highlight the public policy challenges facing the country’s smallest province by population. The forum was organised by the chief minister’s Policy Reform Unit, headed by economist Kaiser Bengali, a unit meant to help the provincial government introduce legislation and policies that would spur economic and human development in Balochistan.

Dr Malik had two main quarrels with the federal government: the structure of the petroleum ministry, and Islamabad’s agenda-setting power at the Council on Common Interests (CCI).

On petroleum, it was clear that the Balochistan government continues to feel that, despite accounting for over 20% of natural gas production and over 30% of oil production, the province is left out of decision-making when it comes to hydrocarbon policies. Dr Malik attributed this to what he felt was an organisational structure at the petroleum ministry that violated the Constitution.

“Under the 18th amendment, the ministry of petroleum and natural resources should have been an umbrella ministry, actively coordinating with the provinces on issues of oil and gas,” said the chief minister, adding that it violates Article 172 Section 3 of the Constitution, which states that the federal and provincial governments have equal rights to mineral resources.

His second grievance was over the issue of the agenda-setting power exercised by Islamabad at the CCI, a constitutional body meant to coordinate issues between the federal and provincial governments. Dr Malik complained that several items that Quetta wanted placed on the CCI agenda were ignored by the federal government.

“At the time of 18th amendment, the provinces made a mistake when they did not acquire the power to set the agenda of CCI meetings,” said the chief minister.

In a sign of political disagreement within the ruling coalition in Balochistan, Dr Malik said the federal government had rendered the CCI toothless and that he would not let Islamabad encroach on Balochistan’s rights, going so far as to promise a resolution in the provincial assembly against the federal government. The ruling party in Islamabad – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz – is also a coalition partner in the Balochistan government and has representation in Dr Malik’s cabinet.

Dr Malik is the first chief minister of the province to not be a tribal chief. An ophthalmologist by profession, he is a member of the small but growing educated middle class in Balochistan and hence his view of governance is different from that of his predecessors.

For instance, his government has been asking the federal government to allow Balochistan to issue debt without seeking permission from the federal finance ministry, a sign that the chief minister plans on engaging in capital expenditure projects beyond what federal funding for the provincial development budget would allow.

He also wants greater representation for the provincial government on the boards of state-owned oil and gas companies, such as Oil and Gas Development Company, Pakistan Petroleum, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines and Sui Southern Gas Company.

Balochistan Inter-Provincial Coordination Secretary Muhammad Ali Kakar proposed that the CCI should have a permanent secretariat in Islamabad, with equal representation from the five provincial civil services.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2015.

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