Controversy around 18th Amendment likened to opening Pandora’s Box

Published May 3, 2020
Proponents of changing 18th Amendment have no idea what they want, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani says. — DawnNewsTV/File
Proponents of changing 18th Amendment have no idea what they want, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani says. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: Participants of an online discussion on Saturday likened the emerging controversy around the 18th Amendment to opening Pandora’s Box in order to undermine provincial autonomy.

The speakers said that whoever was behind the lobbying campaign against the 18th Amendment should not insult the collective national agreement reached by all the political, religious and nationalist parties who were in parliament at the time.

However, they said, changes may be made to develop and improve on the mechanisms of delivering social services and resources at the grassroots level and to strengthen local governments.

The discussion was organised by Devcom-Pakistan.

According to a statement, former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said that non-political elements were intentionally trying to develop choas through the government that would exacerbate the divide between the centre and the provinces.

Proponents of changing 18th Amendment have no idea what they want, senator says

“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,” he said.

Senator Rabbani said Pakistan was facing several dissenting elements when a fair NFC award was constituted under the 18th Amendment by taking all nationalists and dissenting elements on board.

Federalism won, resulting in more tranquility and harmony for political cohesion as 102 clauses of the Constitution were amended - including 58(2-B), which said it was the president’s prerogative to dissolve elected assemblies at will.

“Over the last 10 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.

“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,” he added.

Senator Sitara Ayaz said nothing could be said until the government something to the parliament in black-and-white. She said proponents of changing the amendment have no idea what they want.

“Seemingly it is an effort 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,” she said.

Parliamentarians have a strong relationship with the Constitution, Senator retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum said, adding that they could change any amendment at any time, but with rationale, consensus and an overwhelming two-thirds majority.

He said the Constitution is a living document and parliamentarians shall be open to good suggestions to make the Constitution more productive. If there are problems with the deliverance of the provinces, the lacunas should be identified and remedied instead of talking or taking any step against the historic effort that returned the 1973 Constitution close to its original, he said.

He added that he has suggested some amendments to the process of appointing members to the Election Commission of Pakistan to prevent delays and make the process more efficient, which are with the relevant committees for consideration.

While introducing the topic of discussion earlier, Devcom Director Munir Ahmed said the 18th Amendment was a historic decision of all the parties present in both houses of parliament in April 2020. It gave autonomy to the provinces and wiped off all the dictatorial changes to the Constitution, he said.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2020

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