Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry urged the Supreme Court (SC) on Sunday to ensure the implementation of Article 140-A of the Constitution in Sindh to address what he dubbed a “constitutional crisis” in the province.
Article 140-A requires the provincial governments to establish local governments in their jurisdiction.
Speaking to media representatives in Karachi, the federal minister said Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had resorted to “nationalist politics” and had dissociated himself from the politics of Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
He also accused the Sindh government of misusing development funds.
“Around Rs16-18 billion have been transferred to Sindh during the past two to three years and with the provincial share being increased in the new budget … the province will be getting another Rs7-7.5 billion through the NFC (National Finance Commission) award,” the minister said, questioning, “Where do these funds go?”
He also pointed out that in the absence of a “capable” police force, the provincial government had to rely on the Rangers to maintain law and order in Karachi since the 1990s.
“Every year, they (the Sindh government) pay the Rangers and beg for the paramilitary force to remain deployed here [in Karachi].”
Chaudhry added that while the Sindh government seemed to have limited its job to enjoying protocols, the situation in the rest of the province was no different.
“They take huge sums for areas like Ghotki and Badin, which produce gas and oil, on account of special development packages. But look at the state of Badin and Ghotki today,” he said.
The minister further said the healthcare system in Sindh had been completely destroyed and the situation was so dire that the SC had to intervene and direct the Centre to take over the administrative control of three main hospitals of Sindh, namely the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases and National Institute of Child Health.
“The MPAs from Sindh’s leadership need to think about such issues,” Chaudhry emphasised.
Reiterating that the province was getting sufficient funds without any records of where they were being spent and with no visible signs of investment in its cities and districts, he said a PPP member was made the chief minister after every five years “who is then used by the Zardari family as a puppet”.
“The Sindh chief minister and the Sindh Assembly has been left with no decision-making [powers]. The decision-making does not rest with those in the assembly, but with people in Bilawal House,” he commented. “This is a constitutional crisis in Sindh that we are going through.”
Despite painting a distressing picture of the province, however, the minister ruled out the possibility of imposing governor’s rule in the province. “There is no provision for it in the Constitution,” he said, stressing the need for the apex court to ensure the implementation of Article 140-A of the Constitution.
“This is the responsibility of the Supreme Court,” he added.
Chaudhry said the NFC should then be awarded and “powerful” local governments, which could resolve local issues, should be set up under Article 140-A.
“Otherwise no district will get funds here,” he said, accusing the provincial government of handing contracts for projects to its favourite persons.
Highlighting the need to hold local government elections in line with Article 140-A, he said enforcement of the said provision would mean the administrative, financial and political devolution of power to the district level, and termed it the only means for Sindh’s rural and urban populations to get their due rights.
He also criticised the PPP for rejecting water monitoring despite raising complaints about unfair water distribution.
The minister also drew attention towards the leadership and other influential persons of Sindh entering plea bargain deals with the National Accountability Bureau. He claimed that the anti-graft watchdog had received the biggest sum in plea bargain deals from Sindh.
“And this amount is just this tip of the iceberg as the larger fraction of the sum has been sent to Dubai and London,” he remarked, referring to money laundering cases against PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur.
Chaudhry in his presser also responded to PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal, who had criticised the government's electoral reforms and expressed reservations about its plans to let overseas Pakistanis cast vote in the general elections.
“Ahsan Iqbal, Mohsin Ranjha and the PML-N leadership have rejected overseas Pakistanis with sheer humiliation,” said Chaudhry. “He (Iqbal) said overseas Pakistanis have little idea about [Pakistan’s] domestic issues. I want to ask him who are Nawaz Sharif, Hasan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and Ishaq Dar [then]?”
The minister said while these PML-N leaders were also residing abroad, the difference between them was that they had fled the country after "looting money", while other overseas Pakistanis laboured and sent their hard-earned money home.
“I condemn the PML-N’s remarks [regarding overseas Pakistanis],” he said.
On the matter of electronic voting — another issue that remains a bone of contention between the government and the opposition, Chaudhry maintained that the opposition had rejected the idea of employing electronic voting machines for polling without even familiarising themselves with the technology.
Stressing that an amendment for use of the technology was just one of the 49 proposed by the government in the National Assembly, the minister said the opposition had the complete liberty to propose an alternative amendment on the issue.
“We have proposed the use of the technology because we want all parties to accept election [results] without raising any doubts,” he explained. “But the PML-N has realised that it has no chance of winning the next election and are already crying about rigging.”
‘Budget welcomed by all’
Speaking about the recently announced budget for the fiscal year 2021-22, the minister said he was happy that all sections had welcomed it.
"We are happy that all segments have welcomed the budget and termed it growth-oriented. This will be the year of growth and betterment of the common man," he said.
He said various concessions had been given in the budget such as reduction in the prices of small cars, increase in salaries of 10 per cent and relief given to pensioners. He also noted that there would be no increase in taxes and levies on mobile phones and the internet.
Chaudhry said government initiatives such as the Kamyab Jawan programme and housing loans would benefit all segments of society and now anyone could take loans to set up their business, invest in agricultural upgradation or purchase homes.
Addressing the lack of any new schemes for Karachi in the budget, the minister said previously announced projects and development packages for the city needed to be completed. He said transport projects in the city could not be completed until the provincial government cooperated with the federal government.
PPP leaders hit back
Responding to Chaudhry's remarks, Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister Murtaza Wahab said what the PTI government had done with the country and its people was "not hidden from anyone".
"Your incompetent government has in reality caused the people to scream out [due to difficulties]."
Hitting out at Chaudhry, Wahab said that speaking against former president Zardari and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari would not secure the information minister's job.
He also accused the federal government and Punjab of blocking Sindh's share of water, saying agricultural lands in many districts had been rendered barren.
Sindh Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah also criticised Chaudhry's remarks, saying he was trying to raise his political stature by attacking the Zardari family.
"Fawad Chaudhry is cementing his job by talking against Zardari sahib," Nasir said in a statement.
He defended Chief Minister Shah as a "very successful and powerful" chief minister who worried the federal government due to his capability. "We all know that the Centre is scheming against the Sindh chief minister," he said.
Nasir further said Chaudhry had "no right" to demand the accountability of funds from the Sindh government, adding that "Fawad Chaudhry should stop dreaming about monitoring Sindh."
He alleged that Chaudhry wanted to become Punjab's chief minister and had ruined media houses during his first term as the information minister. "Fawad Chaudhry's name will be included among the ministers responsible for throttling journalism," he said.
Additional reporting by Imtiaz Ali.