Undoing the 18th Amendment is not the answer to the challenges being faced by this constitutional amendment. It is quite evident that the process of the implementation has been treading on such a slow pace that it is equal to none. Along with that, the performance of the successive political governments has not been satisfactory in that department at all. The lack of the political will to implement the provisions of the amendment lead towards inefficiency and incompetency by the government of the political parties which considered themselves as the pioneers of this constitutional marvel. And it further eventually resulted in the poor governing techniques and lethargic institutional reforms. And in the context of the current state of the 18th Amendment, the absence of the concrete implementation framework even after the decade of its adaption is the biggest obstacle for its bright future prospect. Because this argument is stimulating the debate regarding the revisiting of the amendment.
There are two areas where the bone of the contention resides on two main issues; one is related to the overall transfer of the power and the other is related to the funds sharing between the federal and the provincial government. Some even argued that the huge fiscal deficit that Pakistan had to face in recent years was due to the funds sharing formula outlined in the 7th NFC awards. Since the federal government keeps too little as compared to its funds, needs, and commitment which required large expenditure, the central government runs on the deficit. The current debate about the review in the 18th amendment also encompasses this suggestion that in order to resolve the deficit issue, the basis of the NFC award can be redone. But that is where the main problem arises because the opposition parties’ wave off any possibility of changes or alteration in relation to the 18th constitutional amendment. Another matter which is the part of the main problem is linked to the devolution of the power and the resource division. And here, there is no disagreement on the idea of the decentralization and the transfer of the power, as it is accepted by most, because the decisions for the services that have to be delivered locally should be taken at that very level instead of the centralized decision from Islamabad. Apart from being anti-democratic, the absolute centralization of power leads to inefficiency and many people in Pakistan agree with this, so owing to that the devolution of power is not the contested part of the amendment. The real problem is money. To deliver services such as health, education, water, sanitation, and other social welfare endeavors in line with the promises made in the 18th Amendment, the provinces need resources. Given our revenue-generation system, this implies significant transfers from the federation to the provinces. The poor taxation system of Pakistan is the root cause of the low revenue collection that then leads towards the tight funding to provinces and they eventually need more money to perform the government functions. In this case, the reforms in the FBR and the initiation of the steps by the provinces to increase their revenue is the need of the hour that would lessen their dependency on the federal government for the fulfillment of their functions.
Both need to upgrade their stance. Especially on the part of the PPP, they have used the face shield of treating the 18th amendment as ‘no debate area’ for years with tackling any criticism on its governance and overall performance in Sindh after the transfer of the powers in 2010. The sheer ignorance has been on the display where the criticism on the incompetence and the bad governance is answered by the entitlement of being the proponent of the amendment. The PPP leaders need to come up with the real argument instead of hiding behind the claim that there cannot be any change in the 18th Amendment. The victim card cannot be peddled here since it does not come in alliance with the fact that a party is in constant power in a province for the third time and still the major issues of the public are unresolved. The case of Pakistan’s financial hub Karachi is quite unfortunate here where the political mandate of the city is divided between the three political parties whereas the situation is getting worse in the term of the social and economic wellbeing of the public. One of the major parties in the city is PTI but since after the devolution through the 18th Amendment, the federal government does not have any say in the matters relating to the provincial premises. Hence a lot of the argument coming through the federal government is also stimulated by the situation in Karachi where they think the writ of the provincial government is quite absent.
The successful future prospect of the 18th Amendment also depends on the level of service delivery and governance, which unfortunately is not satisfactory at all. Instead of focusing on the ideas to roll back the 18th Amendment in any way, the main emphasis of the government should be on the institutional reforms and the implementation of the 18th Amendment because unfortunately it has been neglected immensely. The implementation of the 18th Amendment in its true essence would hopefully lead towards the restructuring and revamping of the institutions, because eventually the long-term stabilization of any policy decision, be it economy or any other field, is linked with it.
18th Amendment was the effort in the right direction that needs constant appraisal but there is a definite need by the government and other pollical parties to move beyond the political rhetoric and strengthen the democracy by serving the people and giving them what they deserve the most; a strong and prosperous welfare state