The government’s failure to formulate a new resource distribution formula for the provinces under the ninth National Finance Commission (NFC) will hopefully be rectified on September 5, when the next meeting between the provincial finance ministers and federal government representatives is held. Federal Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar hopes to have some results by the end of this year in December, but it’s not like the deadline to get this done has been respected before.

It would be unfair to pin the blame for this solely on the Finance Minister, however. As he has pointed out, the restructured formula can only be agreed to through a consensus between the provinces, which has not happened so far. But holding a review meeting for the seventh NFC at a time when the fiscal year related to it had already passed is indicative of the federal government’s overall indifference to the whole issue.

Added to this, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K) parliament has also expressed a desire to be included into the revenue-sharing formula, which is not altogether unfair. The demands of the people of AJ&K to include them in the NFC calculations are not new, in fact, the same wish was expressed at a pre-budget meeting with the people of the area in 2013. While AJ&K is not strictly a province, its leaders are correct in pointing out that the region lags far behind the rest of the country in terms of development, simply because it receives very little in the way of development funds. Most of its budget is spent meeting expenditures and costs. This year, out of a modest, Rs 73.5 billion budget, only Rs 12 billion was earmarked for development expenditures. A greater share of the national revenue would help improve things in AJ&K, and could also begin its journey towards greater integration with the rest of Pakistan, in terms of law and development.

While principally justified, it is too much to expect the inclusion of AJ&K into an affair that the provinces are already bickering over. A more realistic expectation would be to establish better rates for the water usage charges that can potentially be a key source of revenue for the region.

There is a lot to take away from the seventh NFC, which should have expired long ago. The government’s inability to move on to the next one should at least be used as a learning mechanism. The review meetings should be held quarterly, and not bi-annually, because of the tendency to become redundant. But most importantly, the sitting government should realise the problems caused as a result of being unable to move on to the ninth commission, and should ensure that this never happens again.