‘No fiddling with 18th Amendment but changes to improve it’ 

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DNA

Parliamentarians and civil society show their concern in an online discussion

Islamabad – Participants of an online discussion on the emerging controversy on the 18th Amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan termed the statements of some politicians and ministers as undue fiddling with the unanimous national consensus. It would be like opening up the Pandora’s Box again just to undermine the provincial autonomy. Government or some state institutions, whoever is behind the lobbying campaign against the 18th Amendment, should not insult the collective national agreement of all the political, religious and nationalists parties that were present than in the parliament. However, change may be made to develop and improve the mechanisms of deliverance of social services and resources to the grassroots level and to strengthen the system of local governments.

Devcom-Pakistan (Development Communications Network) organized its weekly online discussion on Saturday. Some prominent politicians and civil society representatives including Mehrun Nisa, Tahir Hanfi, Hanif Sabir, Haares Munir and Umme Nasim expressed their opinion on the consequences of fiddling with the 18th Amendment.

Introducing the topic, Director Devcom-Pakistan Munir Ahmed said the 18th Amendment in the Constitution was a historic decision of all the parties present in both houses of the parliament in April 2010. It was second historic consensus after the unanimous decision of all parties to adopt the 1973 Constitution. The 18th Amendment not only gave autonomy to the provinces but also wiped off the dictatorial changes. We need to respect the decision of elected parliament that represents 220 million people rather than going for the whims and wishes of some influential. There is a dire need to promote federalism by strengthening the federating units to reach out to the grassroots.

Former Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani said: Some non-political elements are intentionally trying to develop a chaotic move through the government that would flair up divide between the Centre and provinces. The state is not interested in the actual provincial autonomy given in the 18th Amendment. It is not the government behind the emerging move because it lacks political vision and brain on the essence of the 18th amendment. However, some pro-state elements are more interested to repeal or just rollback it to curb provincial autonomy; particularly they want to change the composition of National Finance Commission (NFC) award by cutting the share of the provinces. The consequences of fiddling with the most important part of the constitution would be disastrous for the national integrity.

Rabbani believed that the state wants its complete authority and command over the federating units with strong Centre having dictatorial command over all the resources and Units than strengthening the federation. The same approach had already separated major part of the country – the East Pakistan in 1971.

He said Pakistan was facing several dissenting elements and separation movements when a fair National Finance Commission award was constituted under the 18th Amendment by taking on board all the nationalists and dissenting elements too. The federalism won on the table resulting more tranquility and harmony for political cohesiveness as 102 clauses of the constitution were amended including 58 (2-B) – the President of Pakistan’s prerogative to dissolve elected assemblies at his own will. Over the last ten years, we have seen decline in the dissenting elements and the nationalists are taking part of the mainstream politics; democracy is taking its roots in the public, a democratic system is evolving, and some tolerance is emerging in the citizens.

Apparently some elements are pointing their fingers on the deliverance of education and health that could be improved by pushing the Inter-provincial Coordination Committee. The government should convene regular meetings of the Committee and the meetings of Council of Common Interests (CCI) that shall actually take place after every 90 days to review the progress on the common agenda of the Centre and provinces.

Mian Raza Rabbani believes that the defined mechanisms should be implemented in letter and spirit and if there are some lacunas in the implementation, the opposition would cooperate in the best interest of democracy and citizens. No move against the 18th amendment would be tolerated rather resented strongly. The state should realize that strong provinces would not only wipe off the deprivations of the citizens but also turned to be a strong backbone of the Centre.

Senator Sitara Ayaz said nothing could be said until the government brings anything in black and white in the parliament. The proponents of change in the said amendment have no idea what exactly they want. Seemingly they are trying to drive out the attention of the masses from the present crises that government has failed to cope with. The Centre has also failed to comply with its own obligations under the 18th Amendment. NFC award is the bone of contention while payments of royalties to the provinces are yet not on the agenda of the Islamabad. Some practical changes can be made in the amendment but cannot be reversed at all.

Senator Lt General (Retd) Abdul Qayyum said parliamentarians have a strong relation with the constitution. They can change any amendment any time but with rationale, consensus and an overwhelming majority of two-third. Constitution is a living document and we all shall be open to good suggestions to make the constitution more productive. If there are some problems with the deliverance of the provinces, the lacunas should be identified and remedial shall be done instead of talking or talking any step against the historic effort that regained the 1973 constitution close to its original.

He said that he has suggested some amendments in the process of appointment of members in the Election Commission of Pakistan to avoid delays and to improve the efficiency of the process. They are with the relevant committee for consideration.    —