The breathing room PML-N gave itself by extending the 7th National Finance Commission Award till June 30, 2016 has almost come to an end, and the government finally completed the 9th Financial Commission by appointing the ninth and final member, Naveed Ahsan for Punjab. The Commission is chaired by the Federal Finance Minister, and each province has two representatives, the provincial finance minister and a technical representative. Ishaq Dar has been indicating that another extension might be on the agenda while the 9th commission deliberates.

The government has been dilly-dallying over the 8th award, and no meeting has been convened since April last year.

Without a census though, reconstituting the NFC award to provide a ‘fairer’ share to all provinces is not really possible until the government stops relying on estimates to changes in population distribution since 1998. Not only the NFC Award, but the polling process – with the number of voters in an area determining the number of seats in both the National and the provincial assemblies – also banks on obsolete estimates of what the size of the population might be after eighteen years since the last census. Granting funds by using a formula that banks on population and taxpaying statistics if the numbers are not reliable makes no sense.

The NFC Award’s significance cannot be overstated, because the devolution of powers to provinces is only properly implementable if each province has the funds needed to carry out its responsibilities. Constituting the National Finance Commission is only the first step. The hard part comes now, with the centre looking to hold back as much funds as possible and the provinces looking for a greater slice of the award.

Both Punjab and KPK have asked for a greater share, with the latter claiming that its fight against terror should be compensated for. The Federal Government wants the provinces to take up a greater share of duties with reference to disaster management and meeting expenditures involving Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. This the provinces are not likely to consent to.

Even if all parties come to an agreement over the 8th award, the argument in favour of the devolution of powers to provinces is not completely fulfilled unless this devolution extends to the disbursement of funds on the local level of governance. KPK is the only province to have even mentioned the Provincial Finance Commission Award in recent times. Each tier of the government is responsible for development undertaken in its assigned area, and using the lack of funds excuse will no longer fly.