The opposition members in the Senate have expressed their serious concern over the government’s ‘undermining’ of the Council of Common Interests (CCI). It is a constitutional requirement for the government to call a CCI meeting at least once every three months with the objective of formulating and regulating policies in relation to matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative List and exercise supervision and control over related institutions.
So what does come under Part II of the Federal Legislative List: amongst others mineral oil and natural resources which belies the contention by the Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources that the decision to import LNG from Qatar is not within the purview of the CCI; Wapda, Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation including all undertakings, projects, electricity, major ports, all regulatory authorities, national planning and national economic co-ordination, supervision and management of public debt, census, extension of powers of the police force, legal, medical and other professions. The CCI is a forum that allows the federal government to interact with provincial governments – of particular relevance when the federal and provincial governments are led by different political parties as is the case at present.
Be that as it may, the composition of the CCI gives a natural advantage to the government in power even if it is a minority government, as it is chaired by the Prime Minister who can nominate three members from the federal government. The CCI also includes all the four chief ministers. Thus if the ruling party in the centre has even one chief minister (as is the case at present) it would have a majority in the CCI and given that the constitution declares that the “decisions of the Council shall be expressed in terms of the opinion of the majority” the composition automatically favours the federal government. In other words, it is rather difficult to understand the reluctance of the PML-N government to meet the constitutional requirement of a CCI meeting once every three months.
Critics of the ruling party maintain that this reluctance may be premised on explaining the non-transparent deals that the PML-N government is engaged in during its third tenure – ranging from the Pak-China Economic Corridor which has identified highly desirable projects but fails to provide financial details of any agreements as well as the highly controversial LNG import deal which simply lacks clarity. The Sindh government in particular has been repeatedly requesting the convening of a CCI meeting to take up the issue of the LNG import deal and its implications on the province. It is unlikely given the composition as aforementioned that the Sindh government would be able to mobilise a majority opinion in the CCI which implies, as per the constitution, that it can take up the matter in parliament in a joint sitting. Again the PML-N and its allies have a comfortable majority in the parliament and therefore it is unlikely that the opposition would be able to compel it to be more transparent. However, with the Senate led by the PPP’s Raza Rabbani the government may be shying away from embarrassment on this issue but if it feels that the deal is the right one for Pakistan it should use the forum to bring clarity to the deal.
To conclude, the PML-N government has exhibited a marked reluctance to share information on its deals/contracts with other governments and any attempt to get clarity by the members of the opposition, the media or the general public have been rebuffed with many relating it to the Prime Minister’s perception that the prerogative to endorse contracts resides with the government and any admission of a flawed decision may weaken his government. Many in government argue that there is a dearth of foreign investment and the government needs to extend massive concessions to ensure inflows but in that case too taking the public into confidence is the need of the hour. If the government is flouting the public procurement rules it is necessary to reveal by how much and the reasons why which would lay to rest concerns and criticism.