ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday assured the opposition in the Senate that the government had no plans to scrap the 18th Constitution Amendment.
“It is not our strategy and politics to bury the 18th Amendment,” he said while responding to the points raised by the opposition during a discussion on coronavirus and related issues in the Senate.
He said all the ‘positive’ features of the constitutional amendment were acceptable to the government, but highlighted the need to revisit the ‘weak’ parts. He said as the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf alone did not enjoy a two-thirds majority in the parliament, this could not be done. “The opposition therefore need not worry,” he remarked.
Rejecting the allegation of discrimination against Sindh in the federal government’s drive to contain coronavirus, the foreign minister said the disbursements made to the province refuted the claim. “Will Sindh not benefit from the Rs50 billion subsidy for the Utility Stores?” he asked.
Mr Qureshi, who had accused the Pakistan Peoples Party of using the Sindh card in the National Assembly a day earlier as well, reiterated the statement. He added that the PPP ideology in the past was enriched with the fragrance of federalism, but regretted that it was now stinky with bias.
Apparently in response to the opposition remarks about the missing national leadership and confusion over policy, the foreign minister said there was no ‘confusion’ over lockdown in the country, as a clear policy was in place that also had an input from the PPP.
Opposition finds national leadership, uniform policy against pandemic missing at a crucial time
Lockdown was not the only solution to the pandemic, he believed, explaining that it was an element of the overall strategy of the government to contain coronavirus. He denied that Prime Minister Imran Khan said the elite had got the lockdown enforced. The PM just said the elite class had the capacity to sustain lockdown but it was otherwise for the have-nots who were feared to die from hunger, he insisted.
In response to questions regarding PM Khan’s absence from the parliament, the foreign minister said that the premier was in Islamabad and chaired a meeting on virus-related issues daily.
“In a parliamentary democracy, the importance of the parliament cannot be eschewed,” he stated.
The National Coordination Committee also included Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Mr Qureshi said.
The decision to ease lockdown had been taken in view of expert opinions. He said 18.6 million workers would have become jobless and 21 to 27 million people would have slipped below the poverty line if “complete” lockdown had been enforced.
He said the decision had been taken after analysing the Covid-19 data of two and a half months. “The curve is increasing and will take time to flatten,” he admitted.
The PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman, while taking part in discussion said: “This is the first time in Pakistan’s history that we are fighting a pandemic of this nature, but PM’s words of unity and healing are missing along with his presence in the Parliament. What is keeping him so busy that he cannot attend the sessions? Is the Parliament irrelevant, because this is the message he is giving? Who is running the country if he is missing? Why has the CCI not met yet? Like the missing person, there is a missing policy. He needs to be here sharing his plan of action because what is more important than forging unity for your people”.
She said: “Provinces have been told to fend for themselves. Even though they are self-sufficient, they are not the state. The need of the hour is to come together and form a uniform strategy to tackle this situation as it is not possible for a province alone to tackle an issue of this magnitude alone. Provinces should not be feeling isolated and left on their own. Eighteenth Amendment is being used to hide federal government’s incompetency and provinces are being told to do their own thing, but 18th Amendment has nothing to do with this. We can all sit down and discuss this matter but now is not the time to create such distractions. Everyday there is a tirade of abuse against Sindh which we are ignoring because we do not want to get into dirty politics, especially at this time when the country is fighting a national emergency. This is the time for national unity where all provinces must be on the same page.”
“The lives versus livelihoods debate is irrelevant right now. Lives come first and there should be no confusion about it. We don’t need to cite other countries and their decaying economies of the west as our priorities need to be shifted. We need to learn from their mistakes and not repeat them. This is an unprecedented situation, why should we experiment on our people’s lives? A major chunk of the 1.2 trillion relief package has been allocated to big businesses and construction sector but now our budget needs to reflect human security. We need to realise that capitalism has failed us,” she added.
Ms Rehman said: “This situation is worse than war. Our healthcare system is collapsing. We have six beds per 10,000 people. Healthcare professionals are constantly saying that our resources will exhaust. Since there is no policy, there is a chance of losing one million people to this virus. Is that acceptable to us? There must be a single message and policy”.
Criticising the ambiguity in government policy regarding the lockdown, the PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate concluded by saying that the federal government’s “mixed messages” had led to serious confusion amongst the various segments of society.
Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq said the government should have taken a lead in summoning an in-person session, but the opposition had to requisition it. “During such times, opinion is sought from the institutions such as the parliament,” he said. He lamented that the government, instead of consulting the opposition to find solutions against the pandemic, did not bother to even approach them.
He said that the decision to ease lockdown was against expert opinion.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2020