Is 18th Amendment a Wrong-Turn in the constitutional history of Pakistan?
The Federal Government of Pakistan is in hot waters amidst COVID-19 crisis largely because of hasty political decisions like 18th amendment back in 2010 and some controversies in 8th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. The Federal Government is performing large number of functions which are otherwise the responsibility of the Provincial Governments. This includes matters relating to the public health, drugs, dams, education, public projects in provinces, labour, environment, locusts and many other Trans Provincial activities which are obligations of the provinces but have to be performed by federal government. All these activities cost a huge sum. Likewise the constitution though requires financing and functioning of local governments, yet they have no funds available directly.
In the wake of lethal Corona Virus across the world the Federal Government found itself crippled in many ways to come to the support of provinces as the health sector alongwith many other subjects as outlined above had been delegated to the provinces and the incompetency of the provinces to reform the health sector was not up to the mark even after a decade of delegation of powers. Although the provinces took the powers through 18th amendment but they failed to produce the required result to provide benefit and relief to the public.
Now it seems discernable that the political elite just wanted to grab powers under the pretext of 18th amendment for personal gain (as evidently in the light of election results major political parties have been rendered only to their respective provinces and lost their national status due to poor performance) instead of any public interest. Unfortunately, even after a long period no mechanism has been devised to format the functioning of delegated ministries despite provision of due resources and NFC Award by the federal government. Now the flaws of 18th amendment and unfairness in NFC Award has been well exposed and raised many questions on the knack of federal units (provinces) to exploit the benefits of both in public interests.
It was expected that with the delegated powers through 18th amendment of the constitution the provinces will revolutionize the affairs of health, education and local government whereas to achieve these objectives these ministries were dissolved in the center but to the great disappointment no improvement has been witnessed despite uninterrupted democracy for the last ten years and the same parties which carried out 18th amendment remained in power during the course. The local bodies system which is considered the very foundation of democracy has not been evolved apparently to concentrate the powers with political elites and their allied bureaucrats. This incoherent amendment was not well enunciated in terms of its futuristic impacts and now it is being realized that this move has weakened the federation. As a matter of fact the central government is relying upon provinces and it seems that the said Amendment has served the agenda of anti-federation elements which is not in national interests at all. Although this amendment was intoned by the then political stake holders as a historical footstep but despite being in power they failed to build the required capacity through this amendment.
Now although the health is a provincial matter yet the public as well as provinces are looking forward to federal government when COVID-19 has messed with everything. It is widely believed that the developing countries like Pakistan can only attain sustainable development through powerful federation as the people and political elements have no acumen on account of weak social, education and economic indicators. Such revisionism requires slow and steady proceeding instead of overnight resolutions. Instead of accepting the failure to implement the objectives of 18th amendment all political stakeholders involved in promulgation of this amendment are showing teeth to the federal government which is facing difficulties in key decision making due to this legislative impediment that has well been proved to be wrong turn in the constitutional history of Pakistan. Although there have been some achievements too but the side effects are stronger than the benefits till now and this is the right time to correct through some necessary alteration in the 18th amendment.
The NFC Award under Article 160 of the constitution is mandatory through which the allocation of resources between the center and provinces has to be ensured. NFC Award is given after every five year and seven Awards have been announced since 1973. In national interests this Award should reflect these important aspects detailed as above. In my humble opinion it is proposed that the provincial share in the NFC Award should be quietly divided into three portions i.e provincial government, local government and federal government share for the works done by federal government on behalf of the provinces. The NFC Award should reflect this distribution and should be amended accordingly. Come what may, political pointing scoring and personal ambitions should not outshine national interests and neither should it be allowed by the state institutions.
It has been reported through many sources that due to some loopholes the federal government has decided to revisit the NFC award and 18th Amendment and several political parties have been contacted for the key changes in both the matters with an intention to remove the flaws. Although the 18th Amendment was a step in right direction, but the process is incomplete yet as it gave powers to provincial governments, but the local governments are still powerless. A secretariat of Council of Common Interests (CCI) was to be made after 18th amendment, but the previous two governments did not take any initiative to set up such secretariat which the current government has decided to establish now. It is hoped that all political stakeholders will show farsightedness to resolve constitutional matters in national interests without any fuss as Pakistan is already facing a lot of challenges and it cannot afford any political chaos in the moment. The 18th Amendment and mechanism of NFC award has set a wrong-turn in the constitutional history of Pakistan and it is high time to take the right-turn for the sake of the poor people of Pakistan.