ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) on Dec 15 to deliberate upon a proposal for the creation of a “national security fund” worth Rs110 billion and for transfer of administrative control of all regulatory bodies to the ministries concerned and launch of the sixth population and housing census in March.
The CCI last met almost nine months ago.
The council is also likely to take up the Reforms Programme for Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), National Forest Policy 2015 and Flare Gas Utilisation Guidelines 2016 and Revision of Tight Gas (Exploration & Production) Policy 2011. It will also review implementation status of two CCI meetings held in February and March this year.
Led by the prime minister, the CCI comprises the four chief ministers and three federal ministers under article 153 of the Constitution. The sources said the Inter-Provincial Coordination Division had moved a number of cases, some of them also moved by the provinces, for discussion by the CCI, but the prime minister approved only the items mentioned above for the agenda.
The sources said the provinces were expected to oppose two proposals of the federal government creation of security fund (because it would actually reduce their share) and making regulatory bodies subservient to the federal ministries.
A senior government official told Dawn that the federal government had decided to bypass the National Finance Commission (NFC) in creation of a National Security Fund (NSF) of at least Rs110 billion and growing every year because it urgently required a strategic decision of political leadership senior to the finance ministers.
Therefore, the prime minister has approved a summary of ministry of finance on “Allocation of National Security Fund out of divisible pool” for approval of the CCI. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has proposed setting aside 3 per cent of all divisible pool taxes for the NSF so that all stakeholders of the federation could equally shoulder additional security needs including for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The proposal stems from a study finaliaed by the centre as part of NFC negotiations because the centre believed it alone could not bear the burden of additional security expenditures after transferring more than 57.5pc of divisible pool taxes to the provinces.
Mr Dar has been advocating rebalancing of resources and responsibilities with provinces by finding innovative solutions given constitutional bar on reducing provincial shares once approved by the NFC.
This comes at a time when the provinces are seeking greater share in the national taxes to finance additional responsibilities arising out of devolution under the 18th Amendment. According to the federal government, it has already created 28 additional armed wings for the security of the CPEC and would need to add another 29 wings for CPEC’s remaining parts and some other security responsibilities.
The government has been considering for more than two years bringing all the regulators, particularly the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) and Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra), under the administrative control of their relevant line ministries by withdrawing them from the Cabinet Division.
Two critical changes are being proposed for amendments to respective laws governing the regulators. One, the regulators should administratively report to the ministry of their sector and two, the regulators should be bound to follow policy guidelines of the relevant ministries in implementation of government policies.
Created during tenures of different governments, the regulators were attached with the cabinet divisions for the purpose of administrative matters to ensure a reasonable level of independence to regulatory bodies so that they could create a balance among the interests of the three key stakeholders — the government, the private businesses and the common people/consumer.
The regulators have strongly opposed the new move for being against the basic spirit of the regulatory bodies to act as independent quasi-judicial instead of playing subservient or advisory role to the line ministries.
The regulators also have argued that institutions need to be strengthened with passage of time to build trust of the markets as the government planned to progress towards a deregulated regime instead of going on a backward journey.
The federal government has seen repeated resistance from the regulators over passing on the higher costs of inefficiencies of the public sector companies to the people through consumer tariffs. Some ministers had proposed that the regulators should guide the relevant sector through expert advisories to the government instead of exercising executive powers of setting rates and standards.
The provinces had opposed similar moves under the PPP and Musharraf governments. Both Nepra and Ogra have been resisting government pressures for the last 10 years to allow higher system losses and the non-recovery of bills to be made part of the electricity and gas tariffs. Consequently, the government has been using its executive authority to impose various surcharges.
On top of the energy regulators, the new legal framework would also create dedicated appellant tribunals having powers to scrutinise the regulators’ decisions. These decisions can currently be challenged before the high courts and the Supreme Court, which normally uphold the regulators’ decisions rather than the government’s policy desires.
The CCI is also expected to approve new schedule for much-delayed population census, starting on March 15 as committed before the Supreme Court a few days ago. On Dec 7, the apex court had disposed of a suo motu case when the government gave an undertaking to commence much-needed population census on March 15. The court had ruled that a violation of the assurance would be treated as contempt of court.
The last time a census was conducted was in 1998 and the exercise has been pending since 2008 when it became due. The government committed before the apex court that it would start sixth population census from March 15 and complete it within two months. The government said it had curtailed the manpower requirement for the exercise from 288,000 armed forces personnel to 48,000, needed to provide security to the civilian enumerators for man-to-man deployment.
The national forest policy has been moved by the climate change division because of global obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations because Pakistan is among the countries with less than five per cent of its land under forest cover while about 30,000 hectares of deforestation is taking place every year on a national level, causing severe weather conditions including floods and droughts.
The new policy seeks to control deforestation through regulated movement of timber and conservation of the existing forests and promotion of plantation involving all the government agencies, corporations and ministries including the armed forces.
courtesy : dawn news