Give CCI and NEC real effect

Former Governor of State Bank of Pakistan and present Dean of Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi, Dr Ishrat Husain, underscores the need for making the constitutional bodies such as Council of Common Interest (CCI) and National Economic Council (NEC) effective forums for better co-ordination between the federal and provincial governments to draw up budgetary plans and then have a co-ordinated approach towards development and drawing up of Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP). The centre – the federal government – is unhappy with provinces where PML (N) has been unable to form governments, and would, therefore, like to go back to the old ways, ie the constitutional arrangement prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment and the agreement under the 7th NFC award. The bureaucracy in Islamabad is used to passing orders and having the provinces fall in line. They conveniently forget that Pakistan is a federation and does not have a unitary form of government that Islamabad had become used to. The 1973 constitution created the CCI and NEC because there was a PPP-led government at the centre, in Punjab and Sindh. But a coalition comprising National Awami Party (NAP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) was in power in NWFP (now KPK) and Balochistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had his tutelage under the military regime of Ayub Khan and could not practice real federalism. What was conveniently forgotten that All-India Muslim League fought for freedom and agitated for a weak centre and strong provinces while the Congress had the reverse in mind. Unfortunately, both parties had to change their stances once in power.

PML (N) government does not like to discuss and debate issues at the level of CCI, even though they command a clear majority on the council. Projects are approved at the level of NEC without any meaningful discussion in spite of the presence of provincial representatives.

Dr Husain, who has had the distinction of being a member of NEC for six long years is speaking from experience. A well co-ordinated approach in priorities and taking up infrastructure projects as well as social objectives of health and education will indeed be an improvement on the present way of doing business. Conflicting aims and trying to belittle one another would not do. Federal as well as provincial governments, after all, have come into power to serve the people and improve the life of all – not just a few supporters.

Similarly, the well-known development economist’s advice to media persons is to ascertain for themselves that private-run businesses do a better job than those in public sector which are often misused by politicians. Killing the goose that is giving the golden eggs amounts to turning a company into an employment exchange. There are certain projects that have long gestation period or are very capital intensive; the government as an investor will need to step up to the plate in place of the private sector as an investor. But once the unit has been established it may need to be handed over to a strategic investor from the private sector to manage the company and be more profitable. After all, our forefathers were no fools. They devised the concept of PIDC for this very purpose. However, Dr Husain is right that in case of monopolies it is better to keep these businesses in the domain of public sector. But provided these companies are run like business ventures and not overburdened with workforce for obtaining more votes. Social charity needs to come from the budget of the governments that have been voted to power and utilise the tax revenues. The job of businesses – whether public or private – is to earn a profit and pay taxes honestly. Charities and subsidies come from the budget. Private sector is not expected to fund these except for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities its shareholders approve of.

Politicians need to take control and make CCI and NEC effective bodies where agreement on national issues after thorough debate can take place. Relying on bureaucrats for advice in decision-making needs to be reduced and recommendations by them need to be debated at various forums. Bureaucrats as well as technocrats cannot dilute provincial and ethnic boundaries. Only political parties can. Policymakers, therefore, must show strong appreciation of what constitutes federalism: the governmental or constitutional structure found in a federation is known as federalism. It can be considered the opposite of another system, the unitary state. For example, Germany is a federation while neighbouring France by contrast has always been unitary.