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‘Federal budget ignores education and health’, wrote the Islamabad-based Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) yesterday, while highlighting the fall in budget allocations for these items over last year.

The CPDI is not unique in its criticism. Some Twitteratis also thought they had a field day yesterday by flagging the same, whereas various farmers’ organisations, including Kissan Board Pakistan, said the federal budget has neglected the agriculture sector. Perhaps, all these organisations never got the memo of the 18th constitutional amendment.

The only role that the centre now has in education, health, farming, and others is that of coordination; the responsibility of service delivery rests with the provinces. For this, Islamabad has a few options. Strengthen the Council of Common Interest and the Ministry of Interprovincial Coordination; create new platforms for coordination; or efficiently use the leftover machinery of the now-devolved subjects for coordination in their respective domains.

Many have been criticising this government and its predecessor to be still maintaining about 41 to 60 divisions (depending on whose soundbite you want to believe). This is seen as “federal encroachment of provincial functions”, which supposedly eats into Islamabad’s tight fiscal space.

News flash: there is no publicly available study which shows that these “extra divisions” should be completely disbanded by the centre for want for utility. Nor there are studies which show that holding these “extra divisions” in the centre is indeed a material expenditure responsible for Islamabad’s tight budget constraints. This research gap needs to be addressed; so need be the research gap in our collective understanding of an efficient means of inter-governmental coordination.

The federal government would do well to fix the cogs of inter-governmental coordination, and also create awareness so the public starts knocking on provincial doors for the provision of most public services. Media’s role in bridging this gap is equally paramount.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019