This article was published in Arab News on August 30, 2020 and is available at the following link
I have been observing the national and provincial legislatures in Pakistan and abroad for nearly two decades. While the national parliament and provincial assemblies in this country have mostly maintained a mixed performance record, the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan has struck me as a distinct case that is totally out of sync with the legislatures of the other three provinces.
Balochistan’s current provincial assembly, eleventh in its history, completed its second year on August 12, providing us a new milestone that justifies a performance review. To begin with, it is the only legislature, among the country’s four provincial assemblies, which failed to convene for the minimum number of mandatory days prescribed in the constitution. Against the required 100 days, the Balochistan assembly met for only 67 days while the other three assemblies either met or exceeded the minimum requirement. The Punjab assembly, for instance, convened for 100 days while Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies exceeded the target by 55 and 25 percent as they met for 155 and 125 days, respectively.
The quality and quantity of legislation are considered the most important measures to assess the performance of a legislature. The other three provinces improved their legislative performance by passing more bills in the second year than the first, but Balochistan’s legislative performance declined by 28 percent in the second year. Contrast that to Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that were on an upward trajectory in terms of this performance benchmark and recorded increases of 142, 100 and 97 percent, respectively.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s attendance in the assembly was 33 percent, which was more than double the average attendance (15 percent) of chief executives in the other three provinces, signifying a positive, yet divergent, indicator.
The significant divergence in Balochistan’s social, political and economic indicators from the rest of the country may have grave implications for Pakistan’s national integrity, especially when there is a lingering sense of deprivation and victimhood among the people of the province
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
Balochistan also chartered a distinctly different course when it came to salaries and allowances of its members of provincial assembly (MPAs). While the average package of monthly salary and allowances for the other three provincial assemblies work out to Rs 158,000, legislators in Balochistan received a monthly package of Rs 440,000—or 179 percent higher than the average of other assemblies.
During the previous administration, the 10th Balochistan assembly was the only one which forced its chief minister, Sanaullah Zehri, to resign in January 2018, threatening him with the no confidence vote, though his party and allies seemingly enjoyed a comfortable majority in the house.
During its entire 5-year term from 2008 to 2013, the 9th Balochistan assembly functioned (or malfunctioned) without a single standing committee—a feat almost unthinkable in a parliamentary system. Even the public accounts committee, which is the backbone of modern public finance management system, was not formed. During the same term, almost the entire assembly joined the treasury benches.
Balochistan MPAs were allocated the highest amount of development funds for their constituencies during 2008-13. The allocation started from Rs 250 million per year for each constituency which reportedly soared to Rs 1 billion in the fourth and fifth year. High incidences of irregularities in development works were also reported during the same period in the province. Other provincial legislators hardly received Rs 50-100 million, and even that amount was mostly allocated for a handful of ruling party MPAs.
The above instances serve as examples that Balochistan is trending in a direction different from the rest of the country. This piece has specifically focused on the Balochistan assembly which is a political institution and its performance indicators, therefore, allude mainly to the province’s political state. However, most of the socioeconomic indicators of the province also tell us the same story.
This significant divergence in social, political and economic indicators from the rest of the country may have grave implications for Pakistan’s national integrity, especially when there is a lingering sense of deprivation and victimhood among the people of the province.
Both the Balochistan assembly and the province as a whole require special and sustained focus so they may align with the rest of the country. It will require more than just financial resources. A series of well planned, carefully executed and regular inter-provincial exchange visits of MPAs and other assembly staff is something that can and should commence at the earliest as a first step.