The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has started contacting other political parties for a multi-party conference (MPC) in Karachi in the coming weeks to address a number of issues, including safeguarding 18th Amendment from an alleged conspiracy against provincial autonomy, administrative changes the National Finance Commission (NFC) and the government’s response towards coronavirus outbreak and locust attack, a local news outlet reported on Sunday.
— Radio Pakistan (@RadioPakistan) June 8, 2020
The party has already contacted leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Awami National Party (ANP) and will send formal invitations to leaders from political and nationalist parties in Sindh.
Earlier, PPP Sindh President Nisar Khuhro said that the objective of the MPC would be to highlight the inadequate response of the federal government to the locust attack, among other issues.
He also lashed out at the federal government for its proposed administrative changes to the NFC.
“The federal government is unable to tolerate the fact that the provinces receive more in the NFC than the Centre,” he said. “The Centre wants to weaken the provinces financially by reducing their NFC share,” he alleged.
Importance of 18th Amendment: The question of provincial autonomy
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 lists from the constitution. It intended to empower the provinces by giving complete autonomy over their respective educational policy.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of PPP, criticized the government and repeatedly warned the Prime Minister not to attempt to repeal 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.
PTI establishment 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 amend or repeal the 18th amendment.
Experts’ Point of View
Analyst Amir Raza in prime-time show Live with Moeed Pirzada 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.
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.
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.
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 while maintaining provincial autonomy.