Nawaz Sharif bargaining a fresh deal on 18th Amendment?

Islamabad's political circles and media are alive with speculations that Nawaz Sharif and the PTI government are busy negotiating a double deal in which PMLN will support changes in the 18th Amendment and in return NAB law will be amended to provide relief to Nawaz and Maryam. Can this really happen? GVS Special Report examines.

amend the 18th amendment

GVS Special Report

Saleem Bukhari, Editor The Nation and prominent political commentator, revealed in a show, “92 at 8 with Saadia Afzaal”, that the efforts were underway to amend or repeal the 18th amendment with the help of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Quoting sources, Mr. Bukhari maintained that the senior PML-N’s leadership was on board – including Nawaz Sharif in London

In the same program, Dr. Moeed Pirzada, prominent political commentator and Editor Strategic Affairs, 92 News, also agreed that Bokhari’s information may be correct as he is hearing the same from bureaucratic sources in Islamabad. Dr. Pirzada then analysed the situation and argued that now, “it should be clear” that 18th amendment was neither passed in public interest nor is it being amended in public interest. He pointed out that according to political gossip mills in Islamabad, PMLN is negotiating its support for changes, new amendments in the constitution (to dilute 18th Amendment) in lieu of changes in the NAB law that can end cases against Nawaz Sharif.

Pirzada added that ostensibly the 18th amendment was passed under the pretext of “devolution of power” but we’ve seen nothing like that has happened since then. “18th Amendment,” he added, “has turned Pakistan’s provinces into countries while the federation has been replaced with a confederation”.

Saeed Qazi, another prominent political commentator, was also in this discussion and he also maintained that “18th Amendment” was passed by selling the “devolution of power” but while devolution happened from Islamabad towards Karachi and Lahore it has not trickled down to people. He meant local governments at the district and tehsil level were never empowered – which was the actual concept or ratonaale behind the “devolution”

Nawaz striking a deal on 18th Amendment? 

However both Bokhari and Pirzada cannot be credited for making these disclosures – regarding the alleged deal between the government and Nawaz Sharif on the issue of 18th Amendment since these political rumours – or leaks if you may call them – have already found expression in media at least 24 hours earlier. Umar Cheema, well known investigative journalist, had already made these claims in his story, “”Proposed NAB law to undo Nawaz’s conviction amid talk on 18th Amendment” (The News, May 2). Here is a link:

Proposed NAB law to undo Nawaz’s conviction amid talk on 18th Amendment

In fact, not only Umar Cheema’s story but also Railway’s minister, Sheikh Rasheed, made similar claims in his discussion with another Anchor person, Amber Shamsi, of SAMAA TV. On 2nd May, Sheikh joined Amber Shamsi’s program and claimed that “PMLN will support changes in the 18th Amendment if cases against Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and Shahbaz Sharif are quashed. Here is a link to SAMMA TV’s website that alludes to that discussion with Amber Shamsi.

Bottom line of this GVS report is that while there may be some discrepancies between these various news stories but it can be safely assumed that something is happening between PMLN and the government on the issue of 18th Amendment. Sheikh Rasheed, in his conversation with Amber Shamsi, even claimed that Asad Umar, Minister of Planning & Development is part of these negotiations. “I am saying with responsibility that the opposition has had a meeting with Asad Umar”, Sheikh had said. He further said, “I am a minister and I can only give you a hint that negotiations are underway”.

Government, PML-N in talks over changes to 18th Amendment: minister

What is 18th Amendment: Why its controversial? 

The 18th amendment was passed, by National Assembly and Senate, in April 2010, during the government of PPP (2008 to 2013) with Asif Ali Zardari as President. PMLN was ruling Punjab with Shahbaz Sharif as the Chief Minister. Nawaz Sharif held no government position through he was the main opposition leader to PPP – however PMLN was fully on board with PPP in passing 18th Amendment and 292 of the 342 members of National Assembly supported it in house.

18th Amendment is considered to be an important constitutional milestone 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. More than 10 federal ministries were either completely devolved to the provinces or were seriously restructured to assume other minor functions.

18th Amendment brought many significant changes to the 1973 constitution: 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.

However since the passing of the 18th Amendment, it has been felt that the pendulum between the provinces and the federation moved too far weakening the political and financial hold of the centre without provinces undertaking the burdens shared by the federation – for instance debt payments which have now ballooned to Rs. 3200 billion in this fiscal year.

Read More: 18th amendment and charter of democracy – Dr Farid A Malik

In this context, it is worth noting that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI’s) government has also reportedly decided to revisit the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) which is regarded as a landmark achievement for attaining the goal of fiscal federalism. The Award has enhanced the shares of the provinces in the federal divisible pool from 47.5% to 57.5% — a significant rise of 10%. However it has left the centre with only 42% of the resources. Centre continues to be responsible for Defence, debt payments (external and internal), foreign affairs, Nuclear Command, Foreign Affairs and maintaining standards with international bodies in health, education and scientific matters.

Shibli Faraz, PTI’s leader and newly appointed Federal Informa­tion Minister, has said on the last 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. The minister suggested to amend the 18th amendment. Earlier Asad Umar and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, foreign minister have also hinted that 18th Amendment needs review with mutual consultation between the government and the opposition.

‘Cases against Nawaz are to be dropped?’

GVS reliably learnt that the PML-N has prepared its proposal to amend the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law. If the former ruling party gets a nod from the incumbent government the 18th amendment shall be amended. According to sources new NAB law will be beneficial for the entire political class in general and for Mian Nawaz Sharif in particular. Sharif had been thrown out of power through the instrument of disqualification. Nawaz is apparently willing to support the government to amend the 18th amendment if he gets the relief he is seeking for.

However many legal analysts wonder that Nawaz Sharif’s initial disqualification, under Articles: 62 and 63 of the constitution and life ban from political office both were effected by the Supreme Court of Pakistan – so how amendments in NAB law will benefit Nawaz Sharif is not clear. Unless some such compromise is being fashioned by the powers that be in Pakistan which is beyond the realm of our current imagination.

The proposed amendment, in NAB law, under question, according to Umar Cheema’s story (The News, 2 May) is related to section 15 of the ordinance dealing with disqualification. In subsection (a), reads the proposed change, the words “forthwith cease to hold public office” shall be omitted and substituted by “cease to hold public office after the appeal process against his conviction has been exhausted.” Presently, disqualification comes into effect with conviction from a trial court whereas the proposed change suggests it be actualized only after the entire appeal process is exhausted.

In addition, the burden of proof has been proposed to be shifted to NAB contrary to the present practice where the accused has to prove that the allegations levelled against him/ her are untrue. Likewise, the proposed change, in the draft prepared by PMLN and PPP, requires that an offence should form part of NAB jurisdiction only when public money equivalent to Rs.1 billion or above is involved. Remand duration has been proposed to be limited to 14 days instead of making it extendable up to 90 days which is a present practice.

Read More: 18th Amendment not a religious document, says Firdous Naqvi

NAB chairman’s power has also significantly been curtailed in the proposed draft. His term has been cut to three years from four years in the proposal. Prosecutor General of NAB is currently appointed by the President of Pakistan in consultation with the chairman. According to the proposed amendment, the president should make this appointment in consultation with the Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.

Chairman’s power to make recruitment should be transferred to Federal Public Service Commission and he should be authorized only to make temporary hiring on contracts and consultants, according to the proposed draft.

Public officeholders have also been proposed to be redefined as this definition should be limited to those holding executive powers; parliamentary secretaries and lawmakers must not fall in this jurisdiction. Decisions made by cabinet, CEC, CCI, ECNEC, or any other statutory policy-making body can’t be called into question by NAB, according to NAB’s proposed amendment. NAB is required to complete an investigation in a period not exceeding six months. Likewise, NAB can’t recommend keeping somebody on ECL after the accused is granted bail.

Is it necessary to amend the 18th amendment?

Experts maintain that the constitution and amendments are subject to public debate. Hence, if the parliament decides to amend the 18th amendment there must not be any problem. 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. He also pointed out that several parties want to amend the 18th amendment.

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

Yasmeen Ali, an academic and political analyst, believes that “the 18th Amendment has created a governance gap; where it has removed the Federal umbrella, funneling 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 also not managed to a smoother interaction between the federal and provincial levels”.

Despite all this rumours, leaks and speculations in the media and the political circles of Islamabad, it remains to be seen if the PTI government will be able to amend the 18th amendment and revisit the NFC awards or not.

GVS Special Report complied by the Editorial Team with inputs from Farah Adeed. 

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