LAHORE - Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has urged Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to take up all outstanding issues regarding the devolution of federal ministries to the provinces with the Council of Common Interests (CCI), revealing difference between the Centre and Punjab over the matter, Pakistan Today has learnt. In a letter written to Gilani, Shahbaz pressed upon the federal government to take up the matter in the CCI, as the Inter-provincial Coordination Committee (IPCC) had not been able to amicably resolve all outstanding issues. Responding to the letter, Gilani said the matter would be taken up in a meeting of the federal cabinet today (Tuesday). The Punjab government appears firm on its stance, as the government’s spokesperson Senator Pervaiz Rasheed criticised the federal government for working against the spirit of the 18th Amendment.
Earlier Punjab Chief Secretary Nasir Khosa held meetings with the IPCC to sort out various issues in the third and final phase of the devolution of seven more federal ministries. However, sources said the federal government wanted to retain the organisations and institutions of “national importance”, while the Punjab government was for a complete devolution in “letter and spirit”. The sources said major contentious issues include the Sports Ministry, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Health Ministry. A major issue was the devolution of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), as the devolution of Sports Ministry means “nothing” if the PCB is excluded, but the federal government wants to retain national games in “national interest”.
Another major issue is the Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB) falling under the Ministry of Minority Affairs, which too is being devolved but Centre wants to retain EPTB. Another major issue revolves around the Workers Welfare Fund (WWF) and the Employees Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) under the Labour Ministry.The sources said the issue stemmed from the fact that all data of registered workers was at the federal level and a specific amount was deducted from the salaries of workers at source, while the monitory benefits and pension was given to them across the country. “Since the collection is done by the federal government, it has all the data, while the provinces still have to sort out a way for distributing the amount, as Sindh has the largest number of registered workers. The federal government can distribute funds to a worker across the country, something very expensive for the provinces…some proposals have also been considered to distribute finances on the basis of the NFC Award, but nothing is final so far…considering the complexity of the issue the federal government has decided to retain it,” sources said.
Regarding the Ministry of Food And Agriculture, Punjab will be given the institutions, except the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC), which the Cntre wants to keep for a unified policy on agriculture in addition to data collection, data analysis, import and export of seed oil and aerial spray.The sources further said that PASSCO would be merged with some other ministry and would not be handed over to the provinces and the Punjab government was not willing to get the food component of the ministry. However, an official said a set procedure had been mentioned in the constitution to resolve any contentious issue between the provinces and the Centre. The official said if issues were not resolved amicably in the IPCC, they would be then taken up in the CCI. “It seems all outstanding issues will be resolved except the PCB, WWF and EOBI in another meeting of the chief secretaries with the IPCC scheduled on June 29,” the official added.