Analysis: Is it necessary to review the 18th amendment?

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed the fact that the 18th amendment was passed without much deliberation. The provinces do not have enough resources, infrastructure and medical staff to combat the pandemic. Is it the time to review and re-amend the 18th amendment? An important read for the students of Political Science, History, and CSS aspirants.

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Shibli Faraz, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) leader and newly appointed Federal Informa­tion Minister, has said on Friday that the 18th Amendment was a hurdle in preparing a uniform policy to fight the coronavirus across the country as after the amendment the federal government’s role in various spheres had been limited to issuing policy guidelines. He suggested the government to review the 18th Amendment. The minister is not alone to observe these challenges as a result of the 18th amendment, many experts and scholars have already pointed out some technical and administrative flaws.

During his maiden press conference, the minister noted that “Not only Pakistan but the whole world is faced with an unprecedented challenge in the form of Covid-19 and collective response is required to meet it. But the 18th Amendment has delegated the regulatory powers even over industries to the provinces and the federal government can only issue policy guidelines.”

The minister said that the provinces had started to realize that the country could not afford a complete lockdown due to the economic situation and even the developed countries were opting for the smart lockdown to keep the wheels of their economies running. Therefore, the minister urged to review the 18th Amendment.

Read More: How has 18th amendment impacted the Federation in Pakistan?

As far as the 18th amendment is concerned, analysts believe that even this entire amendment was enacted without a proper analysis of its political and economic impact on the federation and federating units. Not just the lawmakers, but also the state institutions failed to grasp its overall negative implications for Pakistan.

Importance of the 18th Amendment

It is important to mention here that the 18th amendment was passed in the era of PPP (2008 to 2013). The amendment is considered an important document in the history of Pakistan. It reverted the powers of the president to the parliament and made the provinces more powerful and autonomous. Matters like health and education have been given to the provinces for smooth functioning.

The said amendment has brought many significant changes to the 1973 constitution e.g. renaming of N.W.F.P as KPK, end of presidential powers, more fiscal power to provinces, and removal of the concurrent legislative list from the constitution. It intended to empower the provinces by giving complete autonomy over their respective educational policy.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of PPP, often criticizes the government and repeatedly warn the Prime Minister not to review the 18th Amendment. “Those who are sitting in the Prime Minister’s office have become a symbol of arrogance. Those who are parading the idea of Naya (new) Pakistan should first understand the foundations of the old Pakistan,” he said.

Read More: IS PTI going to repeal 18th Amendment?

PTI has repeatedly clarified that there has never been a question of repealing the 18th amendment and that the PPP should stop spreading misinformation. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Speaker National Assembly, Asad Qaiser, and Law Minister Farogh Nasim have sparely denied any plans to repeal the 18th amendment. However, the party intends to bring some changes to the amendment.

Experts’ Point of View

Analyst Amir Raza in prime-time show argued that the PPP was trying to pressurize the sitting government to evade accountability drive. “Even if the government or anybody else starts talking about amending or repealing the 18th amendment, why is it unacceptable for PPP? Can the parliament not make changes to it? It’s nonsense to not let anybody comment on the constitution which is subject to change according to changing socio-political realities,” he maintained.

He also noted that “Like any other piece of legislation, this Amendment too, should remain open for scrutiny by stakeholders and public at large for improvement and change as and when required. Definitely, for many experts, politicians, and economists, the 18th Amendment which brought more than 100 drastic changes to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 1973 Constitution – has tarnished the original document so much that it should now be called “Zardari’s Constitution”. Mr Zia is a staunch supporter of those who wants the government to review the 18th Amendment.

Experts maintain that the constitution and amendments are subject to public debate. Saad Rasool, a prominent lawyer, said in a talk-show on Dunya TV that the legal discourse evolves gradually and several changes are made to the constitution to make it effective. “The constitution is always an adaptive document,” he clarified. Therefore the question of amendment or changes to the constitution through a parliament should not become a political tool to seek vested political interest at the cost of national interests.

Read More: PM has never asked for rolling back 18th amendment: Farogh Nasim

Yasmeen Ali, an academic and political analyst, believes that “The 18th Amendment has created a governance gap; where it has removed the Federal umbrella, funnelling finances to provinces without checks and accountability. The recent revelations in the “Fake Accounts Case” in Sindh, if proved, will reflect the weakness of the federation, but not necessarily at the cost of strengthening the provinces. The 18th Amendment has so far not offered much to the common man and has neither managed to lead to a smoother interaction between the federal and provincial levels”.

She also thinks that instead of focusing on making Pakistan into an effective federal state with a balanced approach towards its provinces, the 18th Amendment worked towards devolution of powers without too much effort going into analyzing the impact that the Amendment would have upon the legal structure of the country. Moreover, there was also a lack of setting up infrastructures for good governance to trickle down to grassroots levels and thereby the common man prior to the introduction of the law.

Read More: Parliament should have debated 18th Amendment: CJP

The World Health Organization had also expressed its reservations over the state of the Health sector after the 18th Amendment. In 2011, in a letter to the then PM Gillani, the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concerns over the devolution of the Ministry of Health to the provinces. The concern of the WHO was that “The provinces did not have enough resources, infrastructure, and medical staff and if the provinces were given the responsibility of the health sector in such circumstances, it would wreak havoc”, a source, quoted in the Pakistan Today.

The above-mentioned comments and opinions present a case to the public intellectuals and lawmakers to review the 18th Amendment and modify it as per the needs of the time.

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