By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
After writing on the 18th Amendment Debate, two days ago, I was pleasantly surprised that it had generated a constructive debate. Below is a selection of opinions from different sections of the society:
S M Zafar (Renowned lawyer): Two different issues are involved here. Devolving or sharing power with local government. Other, 18 Amendment weakened Federation. Amendment is brief and short and useful transfer of some subjects to Federation or to concurrent list, so that both Federation Provinces can pass law on them. Local Government Issue needs change of mind set of provincial leaders not Amendment of 18th.
Saqlain (Journalist):If the present regime wants to empower local governments across the country, then it should ask the Supreme Court of Pakistan for this purpose. Legislation in provinces on local governments are inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution, democracy, fundamental rights as well as with the modern day’s systems of LG in other countries. If you see Justice Cornelius Report, you would come to realize the hollowness of the concept of “merit-based bureaucracy”. However, we can suggest a judiciary-supervised governance at LG level. Bureaucracy is an organ of the executive. In the present, LG system, in which the office of Deputy Commissioner has been restored, has compromised the concept of separation of judiciary from executive. Moreover, its restoration is a hugely regressive step. One may criticize Gen Pervaiz Musharraf, but his LG system was the most advanced one in this region. Unfortunately, family-centric political system destroyed it at the cost of an empowered grassroots governance system.
Adnan Adil (Veteran Journalist):At this stage of our social and political development, devolution of power to elected local bodies will result in widespread loot and plunder of state resources and the empowerment of criminals in the society. We should have decentralization of power but to the merit-based bureaucracy. Pakistan is largely tribal, feudal society with pockets of urban centers. Separation of judiciary from executive in this society is recipe for disaster and anarchy. Despite all its shortcomings, a government run by executive-dominated, merit-based bureaucracy is still the best form of government for Pakistan.
Brig Rashid Janjua (Op Ed Columnist Daily Times):The 18th amendment devolves powers to provinces but the provinces refuse to devolve the same to the local governments. 18th amendment has weakened the federation, hence needs to be revisited
Gen. Abdul Qayyum:Firstly Government has international obligations for SDGs but has absolutely no control for their domestic implementation because education and health besides many other subjects are devolved. Secondly, I, as a parliamentarian, cannot vote according to my conscience on any constitutional amendment. All parliamentarians have to vote according to the desire of the leader otherwise you will lose your membership. This surely is against the democratic norms. Also remember 18th amendment is in fact a cluster of about 95 amendments in roughly 85 articles which is one third of 1973 constitution; total articles are about 285. Barrister Kamal Azfar ex PPP Governor Sind regarded this as amputation of the original constitution. Undoubtedly the spirit of empowering the provinces is praiseworthy and some amendments about judiciary and election Commission are good. But total removal of concurrent list at once was counterproductive. This needs to be done gradually. Restriction that share of the provinces in the NFC can be increased but not reduced is extremely unrealistic. What do you do if there is an emergency, war situation, calamity or more need for development in a particular area like ex-FATA?
Wajid Shamsul Hasan (Former Ambassador Pakistan to UK): My submission was that a debate on 18th Amendment now when Army Chief has passed his institutional verdict would be an exercise in futility. His institution has been pursuing its agenda of a strong Centre from the time of Ayub Khan. It would have succeeded had there been no fall of Dhaka. Pakistan was saved of subsequent dismemberment by 1973 constitution and later after BIBI’s murder by 18th Amendment. Any way please continue the debate.
Ahmed Qureshi (Analyst & Anchorperson):Excellent key point against 18th amendment. The spirit of Constitution rests on two key principles: strengthening the State and serving the people. The 18th amendment fails in both because political parties in the provinces won’t devolve power. Hence, the state is being weakened and citizens are not getting their rights in services. In the current circumstances, 18th amendment becomes a problem, not a solution.
Brig Kamran Zia (NDU): I wonder isn’t the 18th amendment a concurrence of Mujeeb’s 6 points? Barring separate currency and military (province specific paramilitaries already there), it’s practically an acceptance of Mujeeb’s stance. And if we had to introduce all that, why dismemberment then?
Masood Aslam:It’s an excellent expose on where we have landed because of the 18th amendment. Insincerity and greed doesn’t let our politicians behave and think like a Statesman. Over exposure of military in statecraft has weakened its standing among the public specially the vocal educated elite. Building bridges for the collective good is not our strength. A big challenge is to really bring a consensus on amending some of the clauses.
Atiq Baluch (a private entrepreneur):I will just add the agriculture part, which is a provincial subject now. Let’s take example of one Federal govt. department, Pakistan Oil Seed development Board. The department had regional offices throughout Pakistan for propagation of oil seed crops. However, after the 18th amendment, since its a provincial subject, all field staff have been transferred to Islamabad and its jurisdiction is ICT now, office salaries , vehicles all are there but sitting in Islamabad where not a single acre of oil seed is grown. Even Before 18th amendment, agriculture was a confused subject, with duplication of jobs between federal govt. and provinces (same true for health and education). Another example is of PARC – Pakistan agriculture research council. This federal department was developed with a purpose of coordinating research between provinces and international bodies but since they wanted big budgets, they developed another department under PARC by the name of NARC, national agriculture research council and have got a huge piece of land in Islamabad for research and started research. Agriculture research is site specific because it is linked with nature. So, if a variety is researched and developed in the climate of Islamabad, it is of no use for rest of the country (Pakistan has 9 ecological zones so all total 9 research station can serve the purpose). When they were criticized, they also started putting field research stations across the country. Duplicating the job of provincial agriculture research institutes. Scientist were sitting in cushy offices and residences of Islamabad and used to tour across Pakistan, spending millions.
The 18th Constitutional Amendment, considered by many as an “untouchable” amendment, was recently brought under discussion by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, on Thursday, who observed that the Upper and Lower House of Parliament did not hold any debate before passing the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
“We were handicapped when we were discussing the vires of 18th Amendment as we did not know as to whether the parliament had debated it before passing it,” the chief justice remarked while hearing a case concerning devolution of powers under the Amendment. The chief justice also said a debate is essential for the interpretation of the Constitution. PPP’s Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, the former chairman Senate, also admitted that although the parliament did not debate the amendment bill, it took nine months to prepare the draft.
These comments and developments suggest that even though the 18th Amendment has been so far subject to limit debate, there still remain certain issues that need to be brought under discussion both in the Parliament as well as in the media.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org tweets at @yasmeen_9