18th Amendment needs to be ‘reviewed’: PM

• Imran says it is against spirit of devolution that all powers are enjoyed by CM who has become a kind of dictator
• Murad wasn’t invited to any official meeting

KARACHI: Amid growing concerns of opposition parties and speculation surrounding the fate of 18th Amendment after recent statements from key government functionaries, Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke his heart out on Wednesday while ruling out any plan to roll back the devolution plan but clearly hinting at his intentions over the subject and called for reviewing the 10-year-old reforms which, he said “needed to be fixed” along with the concept of National Finance Commission (NFC) Award “that carries anomalies”.

The PM openly shared his thoughts probably for the first time during the first leg of his visit to Sindh, where the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has vowed to resist any move against the 18th Amendment by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government at the centre.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah was not invited to any official meetings that PM Khan held during his visit to the province.

“We came to know through media that PM is visiting Karachi on Tuesday,” Sindh CM advisor Barrister Murtaza Wahab told Media “So the CM kept his schedule open, anticipating his engagements with the prime minister. But the prime minister landed here on Tuesday evening and the CM was not invited for any meeting.”

He said the provincial government was also not informed about the schedule of the prime minister’s engagements in Karachi or Larkana.

Talking to journalists at Governor House, PM Khan said: “Devolution is always effective for a good governance system.”

“I have no objection to the 18th Amendment nor am I against it. But they have included several things in that reform in haste. They definitely needed to be reviewed and fixed. There are several things wrong in it [18th Amendment] and they are not practical.”

To strengthen his argument, he referred to several areas of administration which had become challenging after the 18th Amendment and the centre was helpless to fix problems in those sectors. The prime minister mentioned environment, drugs and food standardisation where the provinces were managing their regulations under their different policies creating hurdles in smooth operations in these areas.

“In the devolution system, powers are transferred from provinces to local administration,” said PM Khan. “But here we see that our local bodies don’t enjoy any power. All powers are enjoyed by the chief minister and he has become a kind of dictator. He’s not offering powers to the local administration. The effective devolution functioning requires a three-tier system but here it’s stuck in two tiers.”

The 18th Amendment, passed during the PPP government in 2010, has devolved powers to the provinces in key areas of public services, including health, women development, social welfare and local government.

The PM did not end here. He spoke about the concept of over half-a-century-old NFC Award, questioning its effectiveness and utility. He said it was not serving the purpose it was supposed to achieve as it originally aimed at controlling financial imbalances and equally managing financial resources of the provinces to meet their liabilities while alleviating horizontal fiscal imbalances.

“For instance, there is the system of the NFC,” he said. “What kind of system it is that under this the government goes into Rs700 billion deficit. After paying 65 per cent to the provinces and over security and debt servicing, we start the budget with Rs700bn deficit. We design our budget depending on loans. This is absolutely unfeasible. There is a wrong impression being created that we are rolling back 18th Amendment or thinking anything wrong about the NFC. But there is a strong need to discuss this serious issue. We only want to remove the anomalies and fix things.”

Asked about his policies to meet the challenge of coronavirus pandemic and a consistent tussle-like situation between the federal and Sindh governments, he regretted that elements were “playing politics” and in a soft way blamed the PPP leadership saying it always backed out of its words after agreeing over different measures at on national forums.

“Unfortunately, some elements are consistently playing politics on this very sensitive and serious issue,” the prime minister said. “From the very first day we set up the NCOC [National Command and Operations Centre] which is meeting regularly and taking decisions about the measures to contain the contagion in consensus with all the provinces. Similarly there’s a National Coordination Committee where all chief ministers have representation. At that forum Murad Ali Shah agrees with all decisions and then the next hour Bilawal [Bhutto-Zardari] comes up with a different statement [showing differences between the centre and the provincial government.] I can’t understand that.”

The PM said from the day one he was against strict lockdown in the country to stem the spread of the virus as he was worried about the labour class, particularly daily wagers. The government, he said, had double responsibility of taking steps to contain the spread of Covid-19 and at the same time to ensure that the poor segments of society did not face financial challenges.

“I can say this with authority the way we have handled the situation no one couldn’t in the world. We imposed the lockdown and at the same time saved people from extreme poverty,” he said.

Later, Mr Khan spoke about joblessness in Larkana. In a tweet said: “PM Relief Fund in Larkana, I found a large no of unemployed were chaabrri-wallahs whom police had stopped from working. I have asked Gov Sindh to take this up with the CM as these poor people do not violate social distancing & their families survival depends on their daily income”

To a question about the locust attacks, the prime minister said the emergency was declared back on January 31 and for the five months the federal government was making all out efforts to eliminate the locust swarms. The government, he said, was constantly in contact with the neighbouring countries, including Iran and India, and it had taken the provinces on board to devise a strategy for combating the locusts.

To a question about the sugar inquiry commission report, he vowed that the government would not leave any stone unturned to expose the people behind this huge scam. He wondered over the power of “sugar mafia” and how they “operate in nexus with the national institutions”.

“The sugar report exposes the political elite which mints money through this trade,” he said. “They have enjoyed Rs29 billion subsidy in four years…They earn again through rebate in the name of exports. It’s a huge scam. The regulators which are supposed to keep check on them are their partners. Everyone whether its FBR, SECP or CCP. Because they are so powerful. And I wonder how a stay order can be issued over the report of an inquiry commission? They do have political differences but when it comes to money and their business interests they are all on same page.”

Meets delegations, visits Larkana

Earlier, in a meeting with a delegation of PTI members of the Sindh Assembly, the prime minister urged them to play an active role in resolving problems of the masses in their constituencies. The MPAs gave suggestions on strengthening ties between the federation and the provinces.

Sindh Governor Imran Ismael, Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Zaidi and Special Assistant to the PM Dr Sania Nishtar were present.

After meeting with the leaders of the allied parties, Prime Minister Khan left for Larkana where he also held a meeting with the PTI members.

He also visited the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Disbursement Centre in Sachal Colony, Larkana. The prime minister interacted with beneficiaries and inquired about their financial condition, particularly in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak.

Dr Nishtar briefed the prime minister about disbursement of cash assistance among deserving people in Sindh.

The prime minister was also accompanied by Federal Minister for Privatisation Mohammedmian Soomro, SAPM on Information Lt Gen (Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa and PTI Sindh president Haleem Adil Shaikh.