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Why does the Centre intend to remove anomalies from the 18th Amendment?

Prime minister Imran Khan has said during his visit to Karachi that his government intends to remove some anomalies from the 18th amendment. This story comprehensibly points out the flaws the amendment suffers from.

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Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said that the federal government did not have any disagreement with provinces, but rather it wanted to remove anomalies from the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan.

Speaking to senior journalists, the prime minister said that some federal subjects were wrongly devolved to the provinces under the constitutional amendment, which should be returned back to the Centre and for this purpose, all provinces would be consulted.

Earlier, Shibli Faraz, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) leader and Federal Informa­tion Minister, said 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.

Read More: 18th amendment debate is irrelevant at this time!

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.”

Importance of the 18th Amendment: Remove anomalies from 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: How has 18th amendment impacted the Federation in Pakistan?

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.

18th 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.

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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.

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”.

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

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.

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