Much more to do

The government and all the political parties in parliament have achieved a historical breakthrough with the passage of the 18th Amendment Bill in the National Assembly. As soon as the Senate passes the Bill, it will become an Act. The Bill has been welcomed by almost all quarters of society. The euphoria surrounding this Bill is justified but it would not be wrong to say that much more needs to be done before it can actually be a cause for real celebration. The government will have a momentous task after the passage of the Bill. According to a news report published in Daily Times, 40 of the 47 subjects in the Concurrent List are to be handed over to the provinces before June 30, 2011, the deadline set in the package.

The framers of the 1973 Constitution had pledged to do away with the Concurrent List after 10 years and implement the clauses dealing with provincial autonomy. That pledge remained unfulfilled and, resultantly, a strong anti-Centre sentiment exists among the smaller provinces. When the PPP-led government came into power in 2008, the country was struggling to get out of one quagmire after the other. There was a strong need for reconciliation and understanding bridging the political divide to pull the nation out of the unenviable predicament it was in. The political class has finally succeeded in doing its part as the 18th Amendment Bill has tried to resolve many issues. With a view to strengthening the federation, the demands of the smaller federating units have been met to a considerable degree and now it is up to the Centre and the provinces to actually implement the provisions of the Bill.

With the abolition of the Concurrent List, the provinces and the federal government have to sort out a mechanism for a smooth transition of powers and responsibilities. Since 40 subjects are to be transferred to the provinces, the federal government must examine the existing capacity in the provinces. At a cursory glance, we can see that the existing capacity does not inspire much confidence. But to meet the 2011 deadline given in the constitutional package, the Centre and the provinces have to find the best way to go about it. There are practical difficulties of course, such as the ‘relocation’ of 250,000 employees working in various departments that have now been handed over to the provinces. The provincial governments would be hard put to it to do all this on their own. What may be required is a body to oversee the implementation of this transition. Logically, Senator Raza Rabbani’s committee has done a lot of homework on this issue and discussed it threadbare, so the committee must have representation in the proposed body so as to take advantage of their insights. The other members of the proposed body should be experts in various fields. Such a body empowered by parliament may be the best way forward. After all, a momentous transfer of powers and responsibilities such as this will inevitably lead to a new relationship between the Centre and the provinces. There would also be a need for a strengthened inter-provincial coordinating body.

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) would now take care of many issues that go to the heart of the federal structure and the issue of provincial autonomy. It is good to see that the 18th Amendment includes a fully functional CCI. It will be up to the government now to ensure its proper implementation. In the past we have seen many good laws come into being but they have remained lying like a dead letter on paper only due to their non-implementation. This historic amendment to the constitution should not meet the same fate.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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