MMA govt rejoices, opposition sees anomalies

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Bureau Chief, Islamabad
Nov 06 - 12, 2006

The Arbitration Tribunal constituted by the federal government to resolve the long-standing dispute between the NWFP and the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) over the former's share from net profits generated by hydel projects located in the province has finally given its verdict. Though delayed by almost six months, the award has been generally welcomed in the cash strapped province, which will become richer by Rs110 billion after settlement of arrears and would be henceforth guaranteed minimum payment of about Rs.24 billion annually.

While the provincial government of NWFP has hailed the award saying that hydle project share of about Rs.25 billion annually and Rs.110 billion in arrears would help the government overcome its financial worries, the nationalist parties who leave no opportunity to attack the federal government for any problem faced by NWFP have not uttered a single word in welcoming the unprecedented award, which is a windfall for the provincial government. Addressing an Eid Milan gathering in Peshawar, NWFP Chief Minister Mohammad Akram Durrani described the decision of Arbitration Tribunal on net hydel profits as a success of the MMA government. The chief minister said that the MMA government, soon after its induction, has been struggling for the provincial rights and its efforts brought reward to the province in the shape of award on net hydel profit.

Instead of welcoming the award given by Justice Ajmal Mian-led Arbitration Tribunal the main nationalist party of the province - Awami National Party (ANP) - has described the award as having no legal value unless it is approved by the provincial assembly where it would be opposed by all opposition parties because the award offered much less than what was desired by the province. They insist that WAPDA is bound to pay the entire outstanding amount to NWFP from 1973, which is estimated at Rs. 550 billion. Other political parties too have raised objections while the PML-Q is claiming that its government at the center should be credited for setting up the Arbitration Tribunal and agreeing to grant the NWFP its rightful share from the hydel profits. The MMA is obviously happy that its efforts to peacefully win provincial rights will enable it score political points and put the nationalist forces on the defensive.

The present award has come about more as a miracle, after one more attempt when the federal and provincial governments as well as Wapda agreed in April 2005 to resolve the net hydel profit issue through a five-member Arbitration Commission. The award not only secures clearance of the arrears of royalty but also 'uncaps' the annual share the NWFP will now receive. According to the tribunal's decision, Rs.193 billion, minus the Rs.83 billion already reimbursed, have to be paid to the provincial government in five installments. Likewise, the annual share of the province that was capped at Rs.6 billion in 1991, but now uncapped, has to be paid. This means that by the end of the coming December the provincial government must get around Rs.25 billion and the rest of the amount in four yearly installments with additional charge of 10 percent. For a province that for many years has been tottering on the brink of bankruptcy that is a lot of money.

The tribunal hasn't given its award in a hurry. It started its proceedings in November 2005 and was supposed to complete its work by May this year. It extended its life until October 31 as allowed by the terms of reference and announced its verdict on October 9. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Ajmal Mian, was acceptable to all the parties to the dispute in view of his reputation as an upright and capable judge. Senator Professor Khurshid Ahmad, a respected intellectual affiliated with Jamaat-I-Islami and elected to the Senate from NWFP despite being domiciled outside the province, and Abdullah, a retired bureaucrat known for his intellect and honesty, represented NWFP in the tribunal. Javed Akhtar and Manzoor A. Sheikh were Wapda's representatives in the tribunal. Both had served at high positions in Wapda and were expected to ably represent their organization. The legal advice available to the two sides was high class with top lawyers Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Fakhruddin G Ibrahim hired as counsels by the NWFP government and Wapda, respectively. One could imagine the level of legal discourse in the tribunal due to the presence of such top lawyers, experts and intellectuals.

It is not clear as to what would be the implications of the decision for consumers of Wapda as the Authority might not find it possible to spare this much amount from its own sources without shifting the burden on to the end-consumers. However, it is a welcome development that would go a long way in strengthening the federation. Pakistan is a federation and it would become strong only if the federating units are satisfied. Unfortunately, in the past the emphasis had been laid on strengthening the Centre. No doubt, in case of defence, foreign affairs and trade, the Centre has to play a crucial and strategic role and it needs funds to carry out business of the state. However, on important issues especially those having financial implications, provinces must be taken along. This is the foolproof guarantee of a strong and prosperous Pakistan. Pakistan had suffered a lot because of ignoring this aspect. The country lost the then East Wing because of the same approach and there was also bickering amongst smaller provinces on this or that account. There are several constitutional and other institutions like the Council of Common Interests, Senate and National Finance Award Commission which can play their role to promote harmony amongst the provinces, however, these had not been allowed to do so. Anyhow, this is a positive development and we hope that the huge amount the NWFP is set to receive would be spent on the welfare of the common man as well as developing infrastructure, promoting education and eradicating poverty in the province.