KARACHI: Economists, academics and civil society representatives have warned the federal government not to roll back NFC Award and 18th Amendment, as it would help separatist elements in the smaller provinces.
In this regard, a consultative dialogue on ‘The 18th Amendment-Crucial for Democracy’ was organised by Women’s Action Forum (WAF) at the Arts Council of Pakistan on Tuesday.
Economist and former adviser to Sindh and Balochistan governments Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dr Riaz Shaikh, Nafeesa Shah and Nazish Brohi were the panelists, while Dr Arfana Mallah moderated the dialogue.
Dr Bengali said that 18th Amendment was equally important like the Constitution of 1973. “After this amendment, provinces stopped relying over Islamabad for every development project,” he said.
Provinces have the first right over natural resources under the constitution, but this was not being implemented and there was violation of the law, he said, adding that the federal government wants to get the powers back by rolling back the 18th Amendment.
He said the 18th Amendment and 7th NFC Award had suppressed Sindh’s separatist elements. The federal government could not wind up the departments, which were of no use after the 18th Amendment, besides an increase in the defence expenditure. Thus, provinces were not responsible for it. “Around 15-20 federal divisions needs to be closed down,” he said.
Dr Bengali corrected the Chief Justice who said 18th Amendment was not debated. He said 18th Amendment was much debated. However, “19th Amendment was not debated, which gives more powers to the judiciary,” he said.
Meanwhile, WAF adopted the resolution on the 18th Amendment, which was unanimously passed by the participants.
WAF Karachi and Hyderabad have categorically supported the devolution of governance under the 18th Amendment directive since 2011. WAF strongly supports any structural change that thwarts the centralization of power and restores the due balance of power and responsibilities between the centre and the provinces.
WAF considers the 18th amendment to be one of the most meaningful legislative examples of state restructuring. Despite some mechanical flaws that are bound to follow the redistribution of power, we recall how the 18th amendment was publicly debated and supported by prodemocracy groups. WAF celebrates how this law enables provinces to make autonomous decisions, policies and allocation of funds for women’s issues and which have relevance according to local priorities.
The resolution said the WAF is deeply concerned that since the national election of 2018 and under the new government of the PTI, there have been several disturbing comments by state officials, including the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief Justice apart from several government ministers to undermine this legislation. “We consider this to be a dangerous challenge to the Constitution, a push-back against civilian democratic power, as well as a direct threat to provincial autonomy,” it said.
“WAF resolves to strengthen provincial autonomy, institutions, and governance because we believe governments must be accessible, accountable and responsive and that each community, district and province must have the right to do so. We believe this will make a stronger Pakistan for it is civilian democracy that will deliver rights and not authoritarian, security-obsessed, far-removed non-representative centrist institutions,” it concluded.