The Balochistan government would “consider attending” the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting if the Centre assured the resource-rich but backward province of prioritizing its projects.
“Otherwise we will not participate in the meeting,” Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo said in a policy statement on Sunday. “In the current financial year, the rate of utilisation of available development funds in Balochistan is much better than all other provinces.”
The NEC is the country’s highest forum on the macroeconomic and development agenda and is headed by the prime minister. The council comprises four members appointed by the premier and two members each from all provinces.
Bizenjo’s concerns come as the federal government is expected to present the budget next week. The outlay for the federal budget 2023-24 is expected to be at Rs16,600 billion or Rs16.6 trillion compared to the Rs9.5 trillion federal budget for the fiscal year 2022-23.
The government has approved a worth Rs1,100 billion development budget for the upcoming fiscal year, according to Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal.
But the country’s economy is struggling amid the political crisis and rising inflation. The short-term inflation, based on the Sensitive Price Index, remained elevated year-on-year at 42.67 per cent for the week ending on June 1.
“If the federal government is not serious in fulfilling its promises, then Balochistan will not participate in the NEC meeting,” Bizenjo said and alleged that the attitude of the federation proved that the meeting would prove to be useless for them as in the past.
“There is no point in sitting in such a meeting which lacks decision-making and implementation. Last year too, the schemes proposed by the Balochistan government were not made part of the federal PSDP.”
He also spoke about the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, saying that even though the projects included in CPEC have been tendered, funds have not been released for them.
In the past, Bizenjo has raised similar concerns and called for attention to the development of the province.
This is Bizenjo’s second stint as the provincial chief minister and developments that came after the governments of his successor were ousted through a vote of no-confidence.
He belongs to Balochistan Awami Party, which was formed just months before the 2018 general elections. In both stints, his election came at a time when the province was going through a political crisis.
“Balochistan is a region with unique geographical location, long coastline, deep water port and other features besides valuable minerals and CPEC.”
Moreover, many politicians have linked Balochistan’s prosperity with Pakistan’s growth and stressed the need for creating opportunities.
“Balochistan provides the guarantee of a bright and stable future for Pakistan. It is necessary to give this province the importance it deserves,” said Bizenjo.
Though he claimed that their participation would be “meaningless” against the backdrop of past experiences, Bizenjo demanded of the Centre to take the province’s issues into consideration on a priority basis to ensure a lasting solution to such problems.
He was of the view that mere words and slogans cannot change the destiny of the country.
The chief minister demanded of the prime minister to approve the plans to implement the promises made to Balochistan in the NEC meeting.
He urged the federal government to take effective steps to solve the financial and development problems faced by Balochistan and give the “constitutional right” of the province.
“The coldness of the federal government in implementing the promises made to us is a cause of concern,” he said, “it is very inappropriate to continuously ignore and pin the federal unit to wall in this way.”
He added that such an attitude would not be “tolerated” under any circumstances
Bizenjo claimed that the federal government has not responded to their concerns shared with them multiple times. “The prime minister is not giving an appointment despite our numerous requests.”
Funds for flood victims ‘not yet disbursed’
He lamented that not even one rupee has been “given” even after a year has passed from the Rs10 billion announced by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for the rehabilitation of the flood victims.
The flood victims were in a state of destitution, he said, adding: “We are not able to do anything for them.”
Balochistan was the most affected province by the floods in 2022. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the province and expressed concerns over the grave situation in the wake deluge.
‘Stalled’ NFC Award
According to the Constitution, the policy statement said that the issuance of new the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award has also been stalled for a long time
“We are the main allies of the government in the federation,” he reminded the ruling alliance
“Balochistan also has the status of the future of the country,” Bizenjo said and accused the federal government of not fulfilling the promises made to them so far.
He highlighted that the province was facing severe financial difficulties in the wake of the floods and the provincial government was not able to make a balanced budget for the next financial year.
There was no doubt that it is not possible to end the backwardness of Balochistan without the cooperation of the federation, he said. But the issues of release of funds for NFC shared federal projects and collection of liabilities of PPL have not been resolved yet.
“We have not been able to solve these basic problems with the federal government, which is a cause of concern,” he said and asked his allied parties in the federal cabinet to raise the financial and other problems of Balochistan at every relevant federal forum including the cabinet.
The Balochistan chief minister went on to add that they can move forward with the development process in a “better and more comprehensive manner” if they get their full mandate from the NFC.
“We can bring the fruits of [economic] development to the people,” Bizenjo said and warned that despite its status as a strong unit of the federation, continued neglect of Balochistan may have negative consequences.
He warned that a further increase in the backwardness of the province was not in the interest of the country.