After passing 18th amendment in 2010, Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians achieved a landmark constitutional milestone. With bringing all the provinces on the same page, agreement on National Finance Commission Award (NFC) became a land mark achievement. 18th amendment is all about devolution of power both at national and provincial level. Keeping in view the political scenario of Pakistan, 18th amendment is said to have brought sustainability and development with respect to federal principles.
What is 18th Amendment?
The act includes 102 amendments in which numerous provisions of constitution have been amended, substituted, deleted, or added. At national level, 18th amendment devolves powers by repealing 58 (2)(b) and powers are vested in the head of the government. Thus, a parliamentary set up has been established in its true essence. 18th amendment has strengthened the constitution, because of the article 6 which defines the ‘act of high treason’, which not only prohibits the abrogation of constitution but also terms its facilitation equally a case of treason.
Similarly, in terms of provincial empowerment, 18th amendment did give provinces possession of 17 ministries, a self local government system, increase in share in NFC award, joint ownership of natural resources such as oil and gas, participation in Council of Common Interest (CCI) and inclusive affair of National Economic Council (NEC). This was the de facto reform in provincial structure which corroborated the concept of federalism. Thus, 18th amendment smoothed the relationship between federal and federating units. Council of Common Interest (CCI) was formed to involve provincial matters.
The case of Balochistan
Moreover, with respect to NFC award, Balochistan got an increased share of 9.09% in resources which is needed to fund provided ministries.
However, the total intended ministries are not yet devolved to provinces and the matter is still undecided and pending in CCI. Federal ministry of Education comes forth in this contested domain. In case of education, HEC is a subject of provinces but the decision was challenged in the court. Later on, the matter was referred to CCI which is still pending. Another problem lies in the Federal ministry of Petroleum and Natural resources.
“The Ministry of Petroleum and all the oil and gas producing provinces were mandated to frame rules regarding petroleum concessions under the Petroleum Exploration and Production Policy 2012. However, there is no progress on the matter. Notwithstanding, Article 158 and 172 (3) are another impasse in the way to achieve provincial balance regarding resources. Former ensures provinces of complete authority over their natural resources; however, latter suggests that provinces constitute only 50% share in the context of oil and gas.
Similarly, CCI needs to adopt a comprehensive framework with respect to NFC award formula and provincial representation. Basically, CCI is composed of PM, provincial CMs and three federal ministers. This, ultimately, puts centre at authority as decisions are given assent with the majority of vote. In addition, the provincial subjects such as health and education must be refereed to concerned authorities.
In case of Balochistan, though Local Bodies have emerged recently but they are either found toothless or remain under paucity of funds. Hurdles in the path to bridge the Legislative vacuum still exist.
Back in August 2013, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources. He had claimed that government intended to review the natural gas-related clauses inserted into the constitution of Pakistan through 18th amendment.
He was referring to article 158 of the constitution which states:
Priority of requirements of natural gas: The Province in which a well-head of natural gas is situated shall have precedence over other parts of Pakistan in meeting the requirements from that well-head, subject to the commitments and obligations as on the commencing day.
He hinted towards amending Article 158 which prefers gas producing provinces like Balochistan in terms of Gas supply. He backtracked from this claim once it was severely criticized by the opposition. This shows the fragile nature of 18th amendment in case of Balochistan.
Naseem Khan Achakzai, Executive Director Centre for Sustainability and Research Practice (CSRP) is of the view that unwillingness of political elite to transfer power, bad governance, corrupt practices, and multi-party system has resulted in full scale devolution in Balochistan after 18th amendment.
Achakzai explained that CCI is a sort of permanent secretariat and is currently working under Ministry of Inter-provincial Coordination (IPC) which, with a makeshift arrangement, lack of staff and having insufficient resources, is unable to run it.
In case of HEC, it is to be mentioned that the organization is dealt by CCI as its revenue comes from Federal pool only. Besides, parallel organizations in Sindh and Punjab are working. If HEC is devolved completely there would be huge financial and administrative crisis. It can’t be assumed that whether provinces are ready for HEC devolution or not; but definitely prosperity needs time and things couldn’t be changed quickly even if 6 to 7 years have passed,” he explains to Balochistan Voices.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior analyst based in Quetta, told Balochistan Voices that provincial government of Balochistan is also to be blamed for failing to do legislation for the subjects which were devolved under 18th amendment. “No one had stopped Balochistan Assembly to form a provincial Higher Education commission like other provinces, for example,” He added.
Sami Zarkoon, is convener of Civil Society Balochistan which represent civil society organizations in the province. He is of the view that Balochistan could not reap the fruits of 18th amendment in a proper way. He told Balochistan Voices “Failure of Balochistan assembly to make laws coupled with the unwillingness of federal government to transfer key departments prevented in making 18th amendment a major success story for Balochistan.”
Dr. Ishaq Baloch is senior leader of National Party which was in government from 2013 to 2018. He told Balochistan Voices that it’s not fair to say that incumbent assembly did not do enough in terms of legislation. “We [Balochistan Assembly] passed more than 65 pieces of legislation during the course of last five years and it’s a big achievement,” He claimed.
Baloch added that legislating for higher education and other devolved subjects is still under process and will be taken up by the next assembly. “We were a part of coalition in the Balochistan assembly where disagreements on legislation is a normal issue, He said. “Delay was due to our political disagreements and not because we did not want to do legislation,” he explained.
Pakistan is just 70 years old. To have a reformed democratic system, there lies a bumpy road ahead. Besides, 18th amendment has achieved much more than desired. Now, it requires a co-operative narrative between provinces and federal government for a better breakthrough. The legislative impasse must be dealt with quickly, as many administrative affairs are at passive mode.
“There is a common perception among public that legislation can’t change their lives. Those in power have to make 18th amendment a success to negate this perception,” suggested Mr. Zarkoon.
Share your comments!