The government has expressed its intention to separate the distribution of divisible pool resources among provinces from the population-based National Finance Commission (NFC). This decision comes after the seventh national census revealed a population growth of over 2.8%, making Pakistan the “fastest-growing country in the world.”
Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, speaking at a news briefing, criticized the current NFC formula, stating that it heavily relies on population and actually encourages population growth. The minister highlighted the challenges faced in conducting an accurate census, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan, where there are significant urban-rural and Baloch-Pakhtun divides. Each segment seeks to inflate its population to gain more influence in matters of employment, finance, and representation.
These remarks were made during a meeting discussing the recently concluded seventh population census. The larger provinces, Punjab and Sindh, requested additional time for census completion, with Punjab demanding five more days and Sindh proposing a grace period of three to four days for re-verification.
Despite the official announcement of fieldwork completion on May 15, it is anticipated that the census process may take longer due to the need for evidence-based justification for data verification and rectification.
The government has been unable to deliver a new NFC award for resource distribution among the center and federation units since the previous award expired in December 2014. Although the constitution mandates a fresh NFC every five years, successive governments have faced challenges in reaching a consensus. The 2009 consensus award faced criticism for allocating a significant portion of resources to the provinces based on population, leaving the center with limited resources to address debt servicing and defense.
Minister Iqbal emphasized the need to delink census data from resource distribution to ensure its authenticity. He cited India as an example, stating that India had separated its population from resource distribution for the past two decades, leading to progress.
Officials reported a population growth of 2.8%, with Sindh experiencing over 3% growth and certain districts in Balochistan, such as Punjgur, showing a growth rate of 22.3%. Islamabad’s capital territory also witnessed a population increase of 2.71%.
The census commissioner warned that the higher population growth and count would result in a decline in per capita income, potentially pushing the country to lower middle-income status. It would also have adverse effects on foreign direct investment and other social indicators.
Minister Iqbal reiterated the government’s focus on investment in education, health, and population control to ensure equity among citizens. The upcoming budget will center around five key elements: export growth, e-Pakistan, environment, energy, and equity (5Es).
In response to questions, Minister Iqbal mentioned the government’s efforts to address the challenges in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) caused by mismanagement, incompetence, and delays in Chinese investment. He also provided updates on the ML-1 railway project, stating that it was in advanced stages and financing terms were being negotiated. The project, worth $10 billion, will be undertaken in three phases and span 1,872 kilometers from Karachi to Peshawar.