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Grappling with devolved responsibility
By Tahir Ali   

The devolved functions of the federal agriculture ministry have increased the responsibilities of the provinces and they are trying to come to grips with their cash and capacity constraints.

This scribe recently talked to officials in the department of agriculture, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to know as to what were the financial implications of the decision and how is the provincial government coping with them? What has it done to increase efficiency and capacity of its officials to cope with new responsibilities? What has been the performance of the department to achieve its first post-devolution budget targets?

The agriculture department has made elaborate arrangements to cope with the increased responsibilities and functions entrusted by the 18th Constitutional Amendment, sys additional secretary department of agriculture Israr Muhammad.

 

““We have sufficient resources and personnel to perform the new assignment. We have restructured our department, updated the terms of references of the attached departments, created new or realigned old posts and updated rules to cope with the new demands. While the provincial soil conservation directorate can fully address the devolved functions regarding soil survey, another post of director marketing has been created to look after the devolved grading and marketing responsibilities.

“We have fulfilled the longstanding demand of the employees for service structure and promulgated the 4-tier formula for officials serving in the agriculture extension, research and livestock departments. Different sections of the department have been allocated sufficient budgets to train their officials so that they could better perform the devolved functions.”

On the financial implications of the devolution for the province, Mr Muhammad said it didn’t have much financial impact for the province. “We have had to own only a few personnel of the Soil Survey of Pakistan (SSoP), which was handed over to Punjab but it decided to take only the employees and assets within its limits. Consequently, we have sent the case of these officials to the inter-provincial coordination division, Islamabad, and the decision is awaited,” he said.

“For the provincial component of the three public sector development programme/schemes – the national programme for improvement of water courses, programme for high efficiency irrigation and the crop maximisation project – that were left to the provinces to look after them, KP has allocated Rs355 million, Rs120million and Rs170 million respectively from its own resources for this fiscal year. The money is sufficient for the year and the provincial government has assured us of financial allocation as per our needs,” he added.

Responding to a question on utilisation of funds in the first post-devolution ADP, Mr Muhammad said the provincial government has already started output-based budgeting and block allocation has been made for the schemes for the first time in KP’s history.

“Block allocation has ensured that no season-bound project or activity suffers for lack for delayed release of money as in the past. The midyear report being compiled these days has indicated a funds utilisation of about 40 per cent. And we are hopeful that the utilisation of funds won’t be less than 80 per cent for the entire year. Continued drought may, however, endanger agriculture output if it persists in coming weeks,” he argued.

The devolved functions include plant protection, economic studies for framing /agriculture policies, farm management/research for planning, project formulation and evaluation, crops forecast and crop insurance, marketing intelligence, agriculture commodity, market and laboratory research, soil survey and preparing comprehensive inventory of soil resources, production of special crops like UT olive, standardisation of agriculture machinery, economic planning and coordination with regard to cooperatives, socio-economic studies for framing agriculture research policies, and high level manpower training for agriculture research.

“Agriculture grading and marketing department, agriculture policy institute, department of plant protection, directorate general of food and agriculture, federal seeds certification and registration department, SSoP, Pakistan agriculture research council (PARC) and national agriculture research council, Pakistan central cotton committee, Pakistan oilseeds development boards (PODB) were devolved to provinces, adjusted in other federal ministries or wound up. For example plant protection department was handed over to the ministry of commerce,” said Muhammad.

“That was all according to the notification of June 2011. But recently, another entity with the name of Federal Food and Research Division (FFRD) has been formed which will cater to all functions of the former Minfal, to ensure food security and coordinate research in the country. The FFRD is gradually obtaining back all the attached departments that had been handed over to other federal ministries. The export of agriculture items that had been handed over to the ministry of commerce will be reverted to the new ministry,” he said.

Another official, who wished anonymity, said the PODB has been wound up and its functions devolved to provinces. “But if any province or donor agency and foreign country wish to sign memorandum of understanding for developing oilseeds or olive or any other agriculture crop, it will still have to seek approval of the federal entities like PARC or ministries like economic affairs division or ministry of commerce.

Had the provinces been fully empowered in this respect, agriculture would have greatly benefited. The provinces also need germ plasm, improved seeds and other services from foreign countries. They either need to be empowered or a facilitation centre needs to be set up for the purpose at provincial or federal level,” he added.

He said the provincial government was contemplating to take up the issue of PODB to the Council of Common Interest.

The official said the resourceful tea, tobacco research institutes and PARC etc., have not been transferred but only the financially weaker attached departments with only liabilities and no incomes, have been handed over to provinces.


Courtesy: The DAWN

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