The legacy of the 18th Amendment

By Ramsha Nadeem

The rumors to repeal or at least water down 18th amendment has been lurking in the background for quite a while. While opposition parties are claiming to foresee a presidential system in the country, the representatives of the government keep assuring that change in the 18th amendment would not amount to a roll back. Although it is being considered as the most favorable amendment in the 1973 constitution by most, as it provides complete legislative and financial autonomy to all provinces, bringing the true form of federal government in the state, it also brings the question of check and balance of authority under the spotlight.

Ideally, this devolution of power to provinces has the potential to resolve public policy problems by optimizing the resources. Yet, it also takes away the monitoring rights from the federation. A check and balance authority is necessary and that should be the central government. Several public policy issues for example health, education and development require a close interaction between central and provincial governments. Similarly, local governments should be answerable to their respective provincial governments. The autonomy granted by 18th amendment makes no one answerable to anyone, leaving a common man helpless in all such circumstances.

The reformation of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award scores the essentiality in the 18th amendment. As new PTI government has reconstituted the commission for the 9th NFC award, the discussion has surfaced over rebalancing the resources among the four provinces. There is not much the new NFC award can change. Article 160 (3A) of the Constitution stipulates that the provincial share of fiscal resources should not be reduced more than 57%. Also, the provinces now have the complete authority over their mineral resources, eliminating the possibilities of other provinces to exploit them. Provincial governments are not going to be held accountable for how they are spending the funds they have been transferred to from the federation. Even if Central government asks the provinces to give up 7% of their fiscal share from the divisional pool in order to contribute to resolving financial and economic issues confronting our country, it will not make any noticeable change in the functioning of any sector in the province. As the provinces have autonomy over their resources, they should raise their own revenues. It will increase the efficiency of sectors in the provinces.

Another concern with respect to the 18th amendment is the abolition of the Concurrent Legislative List. Pakistan throughout its constitutional history, despite adopting three different constitutions, maintained the framework of provincial and federal legislation through the Concurrent List. The omission of the Concurrent List now would involve the dismantling of large parts of the federal government and would deprive the federation of legislative powers in many areas which had been regulated at the national level in the past.

Henceforth, while one cannot disregard the importance of the 18th Amendment in the constitutional history of Pakistan, attention needs to be given to the governance gap it can create. It has removed the federal umbrella, channeling finances to provinces without checks and accountability. The 18th Amendment has so far not offered much to the common man and has neither managed to lead to a smoother interaction between the federal and provincial levels. Among many voices rising in favor of the 18th amendment, it is necessary to look at its weaknesses and flaws and towards what consequences they are leading the whole country.