Revisiting 18th Amendment

There has been no slowdown in political activities amid the pandemic. The government is considering revisiting the landmark 18th Amendment and NFC Award, raising concerns of diminishing autonomy and hard-fought provincial rights.

Planning Minister Asad Umar kicked a new storm when he said the 18th Amendment was flawed. The PTI has from the outset opposed the law as it can’t implement policies when on collision with the provincial government. This creates a war of powers as the federal government clashed with the provinces.

A decade ago, the PPP government passed the comprehensive 18th Amendment stating that it has restored the true face of the 1973 Constitution. It was the first time in Pakistan’s history that the president willingly handed over his powers to parliament. Now the PTI considers the process as incomplete since it cannot work in coordination with the provinces.

To revisit the 18th Amendment would be to kick a dead elephant and the PTI would certainly face stiff resistance. The law called for the devolution of power to the federating units, a process that has taken years and remains incomplete as well. The government should focus on the devolution of powers to strengthen democracy rather than clipping the wings of the provinces.

More questions are being raised over the timing as the PTI has squabbled with the Sindh government. Both have clashed over the intensity of the ongoing lockdown and earlier about development projects in Karachi. The PTI wants a more strengthened local bodies system and wants all parties to discuss the issue.

The NFC Award, which relates to the allocation of resources, is also being reconsidered even though it was approved last year. The NFC Award is often used as a tool when the government cannot dominate over a provincial government and the PTI is playing the old rulebook. This raised the question of whether the PTI would reverse years of efforts just due to its differences with the Sindh government.

The government has seldom used the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to resolve issues. The prime minister has often delayed CCI meetings and yet Asad Umar stated that the CCI Secretariat, mandated by the 18th Amendment, was never established. Rather than scrapping the entire law, the government should instead identify the clauses which it wants to amend.

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