A debate among statesmen

125

Sikandar Noorani

CULTURE of harsh statements and over exaggerated claims in domestic politics must be changed forthwith. Aimless verbal cannonade between political rivals during tough testing times of pandemic took a great toll of all peace loving quarters of society. Side by side with differences over pandemic now the Sindh and Centre are busy in usual firework over review of 18th [Constitutional] Amendment and NFC Award! Both the issues of provincial autonomy and allocation of financial resources have always been a bone of contention between the Centre and its federating units. Approximately five decades back State’s hesitation and failure to address similar grievances of East Pakistan led to its separation in a highly undesired manner. Deep fault line was fully exploited by traditional adversary with the explosive of linguistic hatred. Undoubtedly, 18th Amendment is a historic leap towards much needed provincial autonomy and PPP rightly deserves its credit.
Factually, principal agreement for this wide ranged amendment was made by PPP and PML-N while inking charter of democracy in London. Ten years back, PPP eventually got this Amendment approved from Parliament very smoothly without any open debate. It is said that laborious process of proposal collection, drafting, consultancy and vetting mostly took place out of Parliament. Besides granting greater autonomy to provinces, 18th Amendment sufficiently removed the marks of dictatorial era from the Constitution. It will be unfair to criticize the spirit of statesmanship behind this mega Amendment which impacted upon more than two hundred clauses of the Constitution. As it was aimed at rendering greater authority to provinces in the fields of health, education, energy resources and public safety; all the federating units were also required to be extra responsive and efficient in making this idea a real success. Unfortunately, like rest of the good parts of Constitution, this much talked about fancy Amendment is also awaiting worthwhile practical implementation in letter and spirit from four federating units.
The most effective and much needed essential step of empowering the local bodies has been meaningfully ignored. Good spirit of the 18th Amendment stands compromised today and its responsibility flatly rests on the shoulders of the provinces. Constitution or law, how good it may appear on the paper, is of no use if remains unimplemented. NFC Awards agreed upon in the light of 18th Amendment, provided greater chunk of the revenue to the provinces. Graph of development in public sector, however, kept declining against all expectations during the past ten years. Lesser output with greater resources simply reflects inefficiency, negligence and pursuance of wrong priorities. Whatever the case maybe, common masses are the victim of this perpetuating governance failure. Quite a good portion of responsibility rests with the federal government as well which failed in applying the constitutional checks and balances over the provinces. Centre, during the era of PPP and PML-N, most probably remained wilfully ignorant towards the provincial output to mutually honour the conciliatory spirit of Charter of Democracy.
This practice of political compromises over public interests eventually got exposed due to recent pandemic crisis. State of coordination between the Centre and provinces remains nothing short of miserable till today. PM’s early departure from a top level meeting of parliamentary heads was immediately responded with a walkout by leaders of two major opposition parties. Sindh-Centre rift over sensitive issue of lockdown and relief work has been a permanent source of disappointment for masses. In the absence of effective and empowered local bodies, whole affair of pandemic management is now left at the whims of lousy provincial ministries which are only tuned to sit and relax. Despite receiving greater share than Centre under NFC Award, Sindh Government created a lot of hue and cry for further financial aid. Similar bid might have surfaced from Punjab as well, had there been rule of some other opposing party than PTI.
Lack of coordination between Centre and provinces affected serious issues like screening, testing, management of quarantine facilities, provision of relief and inter-provincial transportation of essential commodities including food items and drugs. Federal Government’s call to review the 18th Amendment and share formula of NFC Award must be judged in right context. It is beyond any doubt that, despite being short of tax collection target, Federal Government came up with a generous relief package including cash disbursement to needy people. On the other hand, provinces being major recipient of NFC share, lacked in delivering the proportionate benefit to the public. As evident, Federal Government has no intention to alter the good parts of 18th Amendment. Any effort to subdue the provincial autonomy must be opposed on the floor of Parliament but genuine alteration must not be viewed with peculiar party lenses. Likewise, dialogue on 9th NFC Award should focus on reassessing the shares of all stakeholders in the backdrop of past ten years’ experience and observations. This is no time to fan the fire of disunity and differences. A well-intended debate among statesmen is the best solution to deal with all differences.
—The writer is a free lancer who often contributes in national newspapers.