FROM what Finance Minister Tarin has been saying about the NFC Award, hopes have been raised that the ongoing deliberations will lead to a consensus formula. He has said that population will not be the sole criterion for the apportionment of resources and the provinces will have a greater share in the divisible pool this time. A consensus on the Award would prove that a democratic administration is better placed to resolve the differences between the centre and the provinces as well as those between the provinces themselves. The proceedings of the two sittings of the National Finance Commission indicate that differences still persist but there is also a firm commitment to resolve them. On Thursday the Commission accepted the provinces' demand to include net hydel profit, gas development surcharge, GST on services and terror war costs in its agenda. On Friday, after each province had presented its case for a greater share in revenue, over which there were sharp differences, two committees were formed to address the issues related to the vertical and horizontal distribution of the divisible pool. The last award was promulgated in 1997 for a period of five years, which expired in 2002. Under Musharraf the politics of the NFC got messier and no consensus could be evolved among the federating units. All provinces had taken positions and none was willing to withdraw an inch from its stand. The deadlock forced the previous government to prevail upon the provincial chief ministers to authorise the former President to announce an award by using his powers under Article 160(6) of the Constitution. The quest of a new formula for the distribution of resources between the provinces is going to be a challenging exercise. In the past the federal government has been anxious to keep the pool restricted to the minimum possible items of earnings and was not willing to allow foreign aid, project assistance, loans or privatisation proceeds to come into the divisible pool. The centre thus became the sole custodian of all the official earnings and the provinces were reduced to the position of supplicants for grants to carry on their development programmes. The situation has to change this time. As things stand, Sindh wants weightage for revenue collection, Punjab for revenue generation, NWFP for losses suffered in the war on terror and for hosting Afghan refugees and IDPs while Balochistan wants the vast area of the province and its lack of development to be given due consideration. Mr Tarin says that at the end of the day the provinces will be happy. One hopes the promise will be redeemed.