ISLAMABAD: The 18th constitutional amendment, passed in 2010, has received a lot of criticism from lawmakers and think tanks over the years.
But on Tuesday, a representative of the Punjab government told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Inter-Provincial Coordination that the watershed legislation had not only empowered the provinces, but was leading to improvements in health and hygiene standards.
“Before the amendment, we used to have to run from pillar to post in the federal capital for the sake of minor issues, but no one bothered to address them. However, after the 18th amendment, Punjab has addressed a number of health-related issues itself,” Irfan Khaliq, deputy secretary of the Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Department told the committee.
Speaking in response to a briefing by Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) CEO Dr Mohammad Aslam – who had suggested that provinces should not be allowed to make policies as it was creating problems and was against international practice – the official from Punjab noted that Drap had failed to deliver.
Punjab official rebuffs Drap proposal to prevent provinces from legislating on medical licenses, quality standards
Dr Aslam alleged that provincial legislation was making it difficult for Drap to implement its policies. “Though all provinces are represented in Drap, but they are now considering issuing licenses for medicine and fixing prices on their own, which will create problems. There should be only one policy across the country,” he had suggested.
But Mr Khaliq noted that the country was plagued by a host of issues when it came to health and hygiene standards, particularly where food was involved, and no effort had even been made to look into these issues and correct them.
He was of the opinion that not only had the health of Pakistanis been compromised, but the country was also losing out on opportunities to earn foreign exchange by exporting locally-produced meat.
Due to a lack of conducive policies, he said Saudi Arabia was not interested in importing meat from Pakistan, and was getting its supplies from countries such as Somalia.
“Here, hormones are given to livestock to increase the production of milk, but these create problem for human beings. Vegetables are being cultivated in contaminated water; there was no livestock policy for the past 70 years,” he lamented, adding that after the 18th amendment, Punjab had been able to formulate it’s first-ever livestock policy.
“According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, the country’s annual production of milk is 54 billion litres, but actually, the annual production is closer to nine billion litres... the rest of the milk is prepared with formalin, urea and whey powder, which is causing more and more people to develop cancers,” he claimed.
He claimed that three-quarters of infectious diseases were transferred from animals to humans, but deplored that this problem was left unaddressed by policy-makers.
“Due to power outages, formalin is being used to preserve cooked food in the absence of proper refrigeration facilities... the use of formalin was stopped in the US in 1906, but it is still being used here,” he maintained, adding that Punjab was using its power under the 18th amendment to take remedial measures.
In Canada, medical practitioners have to obtain separate licenses to practice in different states, Mr Khaliq said, highlighting how in many countries, standards differed from region to region.
He also highlighted how Drap, in certain cases, provided legal cover to medical stores who were selling substandard medicine.
“Whenever we take action against such stores, they show us Drap approvals... but we have no way of verifying them. We are not satisfied with Drap, and I’m sure quite a few irregularities will be revealed if some investigative agency is directed to probe its affairs, he said.
“We are not in favour of empowering Drap; the provinces are not a hurdle to be circumvented,” he said, responding to the contention made by the Drap CEO.
Lawmakers such as Sardar Mohammad Shafqat Hayat Khan and Rana Mohammad Hayat Khan also suggested that provinces should legislate to improve health standards and ensuring food quality.
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2018