‘Attack’ on NFC Awards
Treasury’s numerical poverty in the Senate has failed its quite unwise attempt to amend a constitutional provision that protects the provinces’ share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, thanks to a united stand by the opposition. The cash-strapped Centre wants to get more resources from the already struggling provinces without creating consensus among the federating units. The move, put up by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, was rejected by the Upper House by a 25-17 majority vote. The NFC Award facilitates the distribution of financial resources among provinces and the federal government, such as taxes collected by the federal government which form a divisible pool. This pool consists of taxes on income collected through corporate tax, sales tax and export duties, etc. The award, which is to be formed by the president after every five years, is duly guarded in Article 160 (3A) of the Constitution, which reads, “The share of the provinces in each award of National Finance Commission shall not be less than the share given to the provinces in the previous award.” All logics and reasons besides economic principles support the idea of keeping the monetary shares of provinces strengthened and intact, instead of slashing it, given the ever-increasing expenditures of government affairs. The mover of the bill wants to get the constitutional provision for allocations on the basis of needs and liabilities of the provinces amended for, what he thinks, Article 160 (3A) is against the principle of equitable and fair distribution of resources.
The move is dangerous. First, the NFC was earned after a lot of hectic efforts by the PPP government in 2010. The binding force among the federating units should be strengthened more instead of weakening it or making it a matter of discard. Second, the government, read both federal and provincial, should work on increasing their resources. In this regard, the federal government needs to reorganize the Federal Board of Revenue, besides streamlining the payment mechanism to provinces. Finally, the mover should understand that it is the federating units that collect major part of the divisible pool to run the affairs of the State. It is the time all parties take the constitution as well as the NFC awards as established democratic principles. These bonds should be strengthened as autonomous federating units will surely lead to a prosperous Pakistan. The mover should explain his intentions to his colleagues and the nation more candidly.
Museum and mosque
Turkey has found supporters of its move to turn Hagia Sophia back into a functional mosque. In this regard, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has hailed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s ‘courageous’ decision to make the Byzantine monument a mosque, calling it the reflection of the wishes of the entire Muslim world. This is, however, an exaggeration to say that the Ummah stands by the Turkish president’s decision when even Turkey is divided on the issue. A good number of Turkish public has called the measure a stumbling block to the country’s secular ideals, already being eroded gradually by Mr Erdo?an’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has been undoing secular works of the country since 2002 when it came into power. When Mr Erdo?an launched the AK Party, he promised to change the Kemalist state into a more progressive and inclusive state. While in power, the party has moved more to religion, making it the centre of its governance.
Like the Babri Mosque in India, the sixth century Byzantine monument has been the matter of discard between Ottoman Muslims and eastern Orthodox Christians for centuries. A dominant part of the history buys this stance that the site started as a cathedral by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, which was later converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in 1543. It stood as a mosque for five centuries until Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of modern Turkey, turned the mosque into a museum after five years of its closure in 1930. The museum attracted visitors, regardless of their religious status, and would be called a symbol of Christian-Muslim co-existence. That is when someone moved the top Turkish court in recent years, calling for converting the museum into a mosque. Mr Erdo?an and his party stood by the demand. Now, when the court has pronounced the verdict and Mr Erdogan has signed the management decision, the reopening of the mosque can happen any time.
The symbolic move may neither open nor heal the wounds of the past. In 2020, Mr Erdo?an, who has kept his popularity intact for almost two decades, needs to move cautiously on the issue. In recent years of his decades-long tenure, Turkey has been making the Ottoman glory a national cause at the cost of Kemalist secularism. This is the time to revisit history and learn lessons from it. And one good lesson could be that 2020 cannot be 1453.
Disclaimer: Originally Published in Daily Times, July 15, 2020