Budget surpluses recorded by provinces is a recurring problem, which does not make much sense considering the litany of things that require attention and resources. Their performance is particularly abysmal when it comes to allocating resources to education and health. It appears that the relationship between human development and economic progress is still not clear to policymakers and members of the civil service. Education and skill development are crucial if Pakistan is to take advantage of its massive pool of young people, which is a challenge as well as an opportunity that must be seized. Pakistan certainly did not need the coronavirus pandemic to expose the serious inadequacies in the country’s healthcare infrastructure. As far as common people are concerned, there has always been a healthcare crisis here. And yet, provincial governments and bureaucracies continue to fail them, unable to make good use of their enhanced role following the 18th Amendment.

There is also much that can be done to improve revenue generation. A representative and functional local government system will go a long way in helping provinces to not just raise funds, but also spend them effectively. By hoarding power, provinces compromise on performance, which leaves them vulnerable for the future. Lessons from democracies around the world dictate that too much centralisation of power hardly ever works for the common man.

The NFC Award for the provinces places a responsibility on them to utilise the funds for the benefit of citizens. Owing to lack of political will and bureaucratic inefficiency, the provinces continue to underperform. This plays into the larger issue of provincial autonomy; a notion that is best defended by good governance. For now, provinces may find it prudent to use surplus funds to revive the economy in the wake of the pandemic. Protecting the poorest and most vulnerable should be prioritised.