ISLAMABAD: In no mood to clear their outstanding dues, the Centre increasingly appears to be on a collision course with two smaller provinces – Sindh or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Both the provinces are strongholds of mainstream opposition parties – the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rules K-P while the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian (PPP-P) is in power in Sindh.
The two provinces have categorically accused the Centre of diverting their share of funds to federal government’s populist development ventures for electioneering purposes.
Lately, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have been pressing the Centre to settle their dues payable under multiple heads by June 30, when the outgoing financial year ends.
Latest figures show that the Centre owes more than Rs200 billion to Sindh and Rs80 billion to K-P.
Sources said that the federal authorities refused to release the outstanding funds contending that funds set aside for provincial development projects increased ‘manifold’ in the new federal budget and that the federating units would get the lion’s share in the new fiscal year 2017-18, starting from July 1.
Budget set aside for development projects in provinces stood at Rs1,112 billion in the new financial year, the highest-ever in Pakistan’s history.
“This is a strange logic,” remarked a source in the K-P government. “We are being denied our due share in the current financial year with the promise that we will get a hefty increase in the next fiscal year. This means that the completion of our projects outlined in the current financial year is uncertain,” he remarked.
Provincial and federal authorities have already held several meetings over the payment of outstanding dues in recent months, but there was no visible progress in this regard.
In May, when China invited chief ministers of all four provinces to attend the One Belt, One Road Summit, the strained relations between the federal and provincial governments started to improve and it was expected that disputes relating to funds would be resolved.
But, things are back to ‘square one’.
Sources in the Sindh government said that the federal government had bluntly conveyed its refusal regarding the release of funds by the end of the outgoing financial year.
A senior official at the CM Sindh Secretariat said that the Sindh chief minister had been trying to secure an appointment for a meeting with the prime minister in a bid to take up the funding issues.
“There has been no positive response until now,” he said.
Media reports suggested that KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah both tried to take up the issue of funds with the PM on the sidelines of the One Belt One Road Summit in China, but they were told: “This is neither the time nor the place to discuss such issues”.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah, of the PPP-P, said: “They (federal government) are creating bureaucratic hurdles, citing lame excuses because they are in no mood to release funds for Sindh. That is because they are spending our share of funds on populist projects to secure votes in the next general election. Simply put, the PML-N government is having a joyride at our expense.”
PM’s Adviser Ameer Muqam denied Sindh’s assertions about the inaccessibility of the PM.
“This is not correct. The PM met chief ministers at recent meetings of the National Security Committee and the Council of Common Interests (CCI). The issues of funds were taken up at the CCI meeting. The PM has assured the CMs that their problems would be addressed. As far as bilateral meetings between the PM and the CMs are concerned, they also take place, periodically.”
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