WEB DESK: The verve and vigour injected into the 18th Constitutional Amendment to help equip federating units due dynamism as equal stakeholders in Federal Pakistan seems to have dissipated. It’s not for the failing of the one or the other, but of the both.
The envisaged pace of devolution of powers to the provinces is quite sluggish, and it is so as much for the Centre’s reluctance to give up what it should as for the lack of capacity-building on the part of the units to receive it. Even in matters as un-political as health and education, the devolution is quite lethargic, much to the chagrin of the general public.
The principal villain for this may be the federal bureaucracy for may be, but the kind of alacrity that had gone into otherwise hurried passage of the 18th Amendment is also missing. So it appeared a bit out of the blue that Senate’s standing committee on devolution held a meeting this past Wednesday and decided to visit the provincial capitals to see how much devolution has, or hasn’t, taken place.
The committee chairman Kabeer Ahmed Muhammad Shahi did say devolution of powers from the Centre to provinces would help them improve their administrative and financial affairs. But then there was his caveat: ‘provinces should ensure the capacity-building of their departments and staff’. If the committee also discussed the causes in slow pace of devolution and identified the roadblocks the information has been held back from the media. But one thing that does suggest the mood and direction of the committee deliberations is in the cold print: Chief Secretary Chattha told the committee that the government should ensure implementation of Article 172 (3) which mandates that subject to the existing commitments and obligations the “mineral oil and gas within the province or the territorial waters adjacent thereto shall vest jointly and equally in that province and the federal government.” Perhaps, the proceedings of the committee could have been made public more openly and in some detail. Devolution of powers to lower layers of governance is the essence of federalism, which Pakistan of today needs more earnestly than ever before.
But that doesn’t seem to be in the scheme of things of the powers that be. For instance, take the case of Council of Common Interests (CCI). The CCI should be meeting after every quarter, but that’s not the case. The incumbent PML (N) government in the Centre has conducted only seven CCI meetings in 39 months, much to the chagrin of provinces particularly the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which has accused the federal government of ‘ignoring’ its commitment in respect of development funds under the PSDP.
Such is the tilt of the Constitution in favour of the federating units that though the Concurrent List has been abolished the Federal Legislative List does allow the federating units some say in matters that were in the Federal List. For instance, census, major ports, use of police force from province in another province and estate duty on property have been shifted from Part I to Part II of the Federal List. Since all matters in Part II of the Federal List fall under the Council of Common Interests the provinces will have their say in them.
Likewise, as amended Article 128 limits the power of the Governor to promulgate ordinances; Article 232 was amended to ensure that proclamation of emergency in a province must derive its legitimacy from a Resolution adopted by its Provincial Assembly.
The autonomy of provinces gets boosted under amendment to Article 38 an omission in allocation of provincial shares in autonomous bodies and corporation shall be rectified. And the amended constitutional provision on National Finance Commission (NFC) is expected to ensure that the share of each province in each Award “shall not be less than the share given to the province in the previous Award”.
Given that the Senate essentially represents provinces its decision to review the pace of devolution of powers is obviously natural. But the question is: Is the National Assembly equally eager to strengthen provinces?
Source: Business Recorder