Funds ‘shortage’ led PM to ‘delay’ FATA’s merger


–Finance Ministry advises Nawaz Sharif to avoid top cabinet agenda for ‘some time’

Reluctance by the Ministry of Finance for the release of approximately Rs 280 billion for the political mainstreaming and the security for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) led Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to drop the much-awaited merger of the semi-autonomous region with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province from the recent meeting of the federal cabinet, Pakistan Today has learnt reliably.

“Federal Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs Senator Ishaq Dar is reluctant to release the amount for FATA’s merger with Pakhtunkhwa as Pakistan’s reserves are witnessing a downward slide,” a well-placed government official told this scribe on anonymity. “The (finance) ministry has advised the prime minister to delay the decision for some time for now as we are facing other immediate requirements too,” it said.

The official said that these funds may be released once the finance ministry would feel some respite. He said that it had been agreed in the recent meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in December 2016 that the centre would provide Rs 190 billion for FATA under the socio-economic development plan. The meeting had also agreed to a proposal by the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON Ministry) for allocating three per cent of the divisible pool for political mainstreaming of the tribal region.

The official source said that the centre had asked Sindh, Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa provinces to surrender one percent from their share of the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award as Rs 90 billion could be provided for FATA’s reforms. “Three provinces had agreed to surrender one percent from their share for FATA. However, Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh had rejected another similar proposal for surrendering another one percent from their share for the economic uplift in Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan,” he said.

It said that the two provinces had asked the centre to make the sacrifice which gets 41 percent of the divisible pool under the NFC. The merger of FATA with Pakhtunkhwa was recommended by a six-member FATA Reforms Committee led by Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. FATA lawmakers Shah Jee Gul Afridi confirms the information.

“Yes, it is true. I have also checked with chief ministers (of Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh) and both have confirmed me that they had given their approval to one percent cut to their NFC share for FATA plan. However, both the chief ministers opposed cut in their share for the development in Kashmir and Gilgit,” he added.

Under the proposed plan, FATA would be merged with Pakhtunkhwa in phases while rehabilitation and reconstruction of the infrastructure for the temporarily displaced persons (TDPs), such as roads, communications, power lines, water supply, education, and health facilities, would be undertaken by the public sector agencies. Moreover, repair or rebuilding of private houses would be left to the owners themselves by giving them cash compensation at prescribed rates.