News Column

Learning to share

January 20, 2014

The PML-N is not known for a belief in decentralisation. But if the ruling party believes that it will be able to strong-arm the provinces into giving up their hard-earned autonomy during the negotiations for the Eighth National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, it is sadly mistaken. Early indications seem to suggest that the Nawaz Administration has given, at least, some assurances to the International Monetary Fund that it will seek more sharing of government expenditures with the provinces. Yet, the party is trying to portray its opponents’ positions as extreme in a bid to delegitimise them. Among the suggestions supposedly being considered is the idea that the provinces be given more revenue collection authority and then be asked to pay for national defence. This is clearly an attempt at reductio ad absurdum: the PML-N knows that having essential federal functions like national defence paid for by the provinces is an absurdly extreme suggestion that would fundamentally alter the very nature of the republic. By portraying the supporters of devolution as extremists, the Nawaz Administration appears to be gearing up to extract significant concessions in the upcoming negotiations for the next NFC Award. It is a move that we hope will fail. All the provinces are governed by different parties or coalitions and will likely resist any attempts to dilute their powers. Indeed, if Islamabad tries to get the provinces to share expenditures, it may be surprised to find many takers for spending money equals more authority and policymaking autonomy. While devolution of power does not mesh well with the PML-N’s political ideology, we would urge it to accept it as fait accompli. It does not have the votes to overturn the Eighteenth Amendment and it should not waste its time trying to achieve an impossible goal. Indeed, the PML-N would be better served by trying to take advantage of the devolution of authority. It will not always be in power in Islamabad .

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Source: Express Tribune (Pakistan)

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