Why should the demand for revisiting the 18th Amendment be misconstrued as an advocacy for repealing it or reversing the hard-earned provincial autonomy? This posturing hardly takes into account the fact that although the amendment addressed the long-standing issue of provincial autonomy in great measure, yet central and provincial governments failed in devising mechanisms to facilitate the translation of smooth autonomous action at the provincial level and equitable distribution of resources. A review should ideally result in greater autonomy for the federating units.
In a review of Post-18th Amendment Fiscal Challenges, noted writers and tax lawyers Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq point out, “The problems diagnosed by experts (in the post-amendment scenario) are ambiguity over taxation rights between federation and its units, weak structures, lack of capacity, competitiveness and efficiency, rent-seeking, violation of the rule of law, non-acceptance of the norms of fair play and coupled with reckless borrowing and ruthless spending amidst dismal tax-to-GDP ratio.”
They point out, “The 18th Amendment created fissures in the revenue collection authority of FBR, resulting in further decline in tax collection because tax on services fell in the provincial domains. Taxpayers immediately started raising their eyebrows because they had to now face both federal and provincial tax authorities. All major chambers of commerce expressed their concerns and showed reservations on the scattered tax collection in the aftermath of the amendment.”
Similarly, in its 2017 policy brief on the amendment, the Research Society of International Law, Pakistan, said the 18th Amendment represented a remarkably short implementation period for an instrument designed to make broad, sweeping changes to the constitution and governance structures in Pakistan. “The sudden constitutional surgery carried out by the 18th Amendment sent shockwaves throughout the system of governance in Pakistan. Its immediate aftermath was marred by a period of considerable uncertainty and anxiety between a broad range of stakeholders at the federal and provincial level and resulted in considerable litigation,” said the brief, underlining the legal challenges the amendment threw up.
Although not relevant to 18th Amendment, yet the current anti-encroachment drive on the Supreme Court’s directives illustrates more or less similar dilemmas, and exemplifies the problems we have faced since the passage of the half-deliberated amendment in April 2010: enforcement of a law/directive without thinking of an alternative for the destroyed livelihoods. Illegal structures have been razed but what to do with the consequences of the anti-encroachment drive i.e. tens of thousands of people losing their livelihoods, adding to the army of the already unemployed all over Pakistan?
Did the privileged judges – who draw over a million rupees a month in salaries – really give a consideration to the plight of those who would lose livelihoods as a result of the anti-encroachment campaign?
The spirit of constitution essentially aims at 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.
That major political parties themselves dragged their feet on devolution is another bitter reality. They held local government elections only after the Supreme Court instructed them to do so.
Impact on Oil/Gas Exploration
One case in point is the oil and gas exploration, an area which has remained largely stagnant after the British Petroleum and Shell wrapped up operations following complications arising out of the discord between the Centre and the provinces.
Interestingly, the Centre issues licenses for exploration but the allocation of the block rests literally on the discretion of the provincial land revenue officials i.e. the patwari. So the investors are entirely dependent on the provincial government. And hence, the departure of Shell and BP from Pakistan as well as little outside interest in exploration.
Impact on Agriculture:
The case in point here is the Pakistan Oil Seed Development Board, which had regional offices throughout Pakistan for propagation of oil seed crops. After the 18th Amendment, all the field staff was transferred to Islamabad, restricting it to the capital territory only, where not even a single acre of oil seed is grown. All office staff with salaries and vehicles are practically doing nothing in Islamabad, literally a criminal wastage of time and resource.
The Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) is another example. It was developed to coordinate research between provinces and international bodies. They wanted big budgets and not limited just to policy and coordination. The council therefore put field research stations across the country, basically duplicating the job of provincial agriculture research institutes. The PARC also created the National Agriculture Research Council (NARC) at Islamabad with a huge piece of land for research. Ironically, agriculture research is site-specific because it is linked with the nature, so if a variety is researched and developed in the climate of Islamabad, it is of no use for the rest of the country which has nine ecological zones.
The big question staring us all in the face is: have PARC or provincial agricultural departments been able to raise the per acre yield, at least for the cash crops such as wheat, rice and sugarcane after the devolution?
What measures did the provincial governments have undertaken in the decade since the devolution to transform crop patterns and dramatically enhance the per acre yields?
Accepting the logic peddled by political supporters of the 18th Amendment would amount to equating this piece of legislation to a divine revelation. Also, if we accept this, why should we dismiss the religio-political parties’ argument on the Blasphemy Laws (Art 295 b and c)? They insist this law, although inserted into constitution through a legislative process, is sacrosanct and thus ‘untouchable’.
What is the point in the entire legislative and amendment process if you can’t touch and alter laws that directly affect peoples’ lives? Going by the logic, the entire proceeding of the 27-party parliamentary committee for the 18th Amendment would be frivolous. It could have simply in a one-line resolution demanded the restoration of the 1973 Constitution as it existed before General Zia’s 1977 martial law.
Moral: just getting a law or even a constitutional amendment adopted doesn’t necessarily guarantee the desired results if it is not deliberated and well thought-through.
Originally Published in Daily Times, January 14th 2019.