The 18th Amendment Debate

The President of Pakistan formally constituted the 10th National Finance Commission on Tuesday with Prime Minister’s Adviser Hafeez Sheikh its chairman and finance ministers of all the provincial governments as its members. A technical member from each province has also been appointed. In this regard, Mr. Javed Jabbar has been appointed as the technical member of Balochistan whose appointment has been criticized much from different political quarters as he is an intellectual with interest in literature and mass communication but doesn’t have any hold on the peculiar needs and circumstances of Balochistan’s financial needs. How will he defend the interests of Balochistan in the coming NFC is for the time to tell.

However, there has been an uneasiness in the centre over the 18th amendment and the members of incumbent government have overtly or covertly aired venomous statements against the amendment. Many have called it ‘provincialism raising its head’ and many have equalized the 18th amendment with six points of Shiekh Mujeeb ur Rehman.

But the real point where the shoe pinches is of funds that have been transferred to the provinces for the very first time on multiple criteria under 7th NFC that include population 82 percent, poverty or backwardness 10.3 percent, revenue 5 % and inverse population density 2.7 percent. This distribution criterion gave huge advantage to the provinces and specifically to Balochistan whose share jumped to 9.09 percent. The 7th NFC award also reduced the federal government’s share to 42.5 percent.

Therefore, some of the quarters who were enjoying enormous perks and privileges saw a sudden reduction in their funding and many ministries were devolved to the provinces. This is what happens in true federations across the world. Shah Mehmood Qureshi was perhaps trying to mislead the nation when he said that he was talking about federalism. In fact, he was talking about over-centralisation which has been going on in Pakistan for the last 7 decades. Now the reduction of the provinces share can only be done through a constitutional amendment and making changes in 18th amendment to this effect.

Any changes in the 18th amendment and reduction in the share of the provinces in NFC will further alienate provinces, increase unemployment, deteriorate already slow pace of development. The central government should avoid treading paths for the appeasement of a minority in centre that smack of insincerity and have potential of generating many political and economic issues.

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