Legislate with consensus

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ACCORDING to media reports, the Government was contemplating to amend the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award and the famous 18th Amendment, sparking apprehensions among some political parties especially those from the small federating units that some powers of the provinces granted under the devolution plan might be withdrawn. However, in an interview, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar has said the Centre doesn’t want to take back any powers from provinces rather it wants to work with provinces in coordination for development of the country and that all the political parties must sit together to discuss the issue.
No details are available as to the sort of amendments the Government intends to make both in the NFC Award and the 18th Amendment and, therefore, it would be premature to form a conclusive opinion on the issue. However, as the Minister has pointed out that there are certain flaws in the 18th Amendment and its practical implementation has necessitated the need for further changes to ensure smooth working of the system. There have been some difficulties in view of wholesale devolution to the provinces especially in relation to education and health raising questions whether the federating units had the infrastructure to carry out their responsibilities as per expectations of the people. Health has been devolved to the provinces but the prevalent situation in the wake of spread of Coronavirus has exposed faults and weaknesses of the provinces. There was definitely need for revisiting the 18th Amendment but amendments like taking away the power of the President to dissolve the Assembly and strengthening of the authority of the Prime Minister need not be touched in view of sensitivities of the people and the political parties. This is because we have seen in the past that some presidents misused this power and as a result there was lack of political stability and continuity in the country. Similarly, the formula for distribution of resources under the NFC Award is also ticklish and sensitive issue as every province has its own viewpoint influenced by its own strength on a particular basis. Announce new Award but there should not be fundamental changes that could harm the national unity and cohesion. It is also strange that the Government was planning to introduce amendments at a time when even convening of sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate seem to be difficult options in view of Corona related fears. Anyhow, there must be exhaustive consultations among all stakeholders before introduction of actual changes and amendments.