The constitution of members of the National Finance Commission (NFC), released by the government in May, had generated controversy and contestation by the opposition, based on the reasoning that the procedure had disregarded constitutional and legal formalities. The issue had escalated to a court petition filed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which had challenged the appointment of Adviser to the PM on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and the finance secretary as NFC members. The appointments had been particularly controversial for the fact that both of these representatives were not Baloch, yet were set to serve as non-statutory members from Balochistan.

The government seems to have realised that these appointments were causing unnecessary problems and has issued a notification removing the allocations. It has de-notified Dr Hafeez Shaikh and Javed Jabbar, the two controversial appointments, and has given up a number of its terms of reference.

This reversal by the government is a positive development; a court petition would have caused further delay. Since the NFC is a constitutional entity tasked with an imperative function, distributing financial resources among the federating units, utmost care should have been taken while appointing its members and developing its terms of reference. It would have hurt the legitimacy of the NFC had its constitution been marred with opposition and court proceedings.

Yet there are some issues which need to be smoothed over. Now with nine members instead of eleven, the government still needs to appoint Balochistan’s non-statutory members, and this time it must do so with the utmost regard to procedure. Even the improved NFC is likely to face legal challenges due to confusions in the formal notification of the results of the National Population Census 2017. While it is a tricky road ahead, it is advised that this time around, the government leave no room for complaints in the constitution process of the NFC, and that the opposition, mainly PML-N, adopt reasonable concerns and not file petitions just for the sake of it.