Pakistan’s prime minister accuses PPP-led Sindh government of ‘playing politics’ over coronavirus pandemic
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday appeared to validate concerns from the opposition that the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government is seeking to repeal the 18th Amendment, as he called for a “review” of the legislation over “anomalies” in its text.
Addressing a press conference in Karachi during his first visit to Sindh since the novel coronavirus outbreak, Khan claimed that while he did not object to the devolution of powers guaranteed by the 18th Amendment, it contained several clauses that required reform. “There are several things wrong in it [18th Amendment] and they are not practical,” he said.
According to the prime minister, the 18th Amendment has handcuffed the center from intervening in sectors that have been placed under the direct control of the provinces. Likening the powers of provincial chief ministers to those of a “dictator” under the 18th Amendment, he claimed environmental policies, drugs and food standardization should be uniform nationwide. “Differing standards are making it harder for businesses, which must secure separate licenses for each region,” he said.
“In the devolution system, powers are transferred from provinces to local administration,” said the prime minister. “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,” he said.
The 18th Amendment, passed during by a PPP-led government in 2010, has devolved powers to the provinces in key areas of public services, including health, women development, social welfare and local government. It has long been criticized by the military establishment, which claims it fractures national unity and reduces the authority available to the center.
The prime minister also had issues with the National Finance Commission Award, questioning its effectiveness and utility. He claimed it was not accomplishing its goal of managing financial imbalances between provinces and allowing them to meet their liabilities.
“What kind of system is this that under it the [federal] government goes into Rs. 700 billion deficit. After paying 65 percent to the provinces and over security and debt servicing, we start the budget with Rs. 700 billion deficit… This is unfeasible,” he said. “There is a wrong impression that we are rolling back 18th Amendment or altering the NFC. But we do need to debate this issue and remove the anomalies,” he added.
To a question on the challenges of overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, the prime minister alleged that the Sindh government was “playing politics.” He claimed all policy decisions were being taken unanimously at the National Command and Operation Center, but after the meetings the Sindh leadership would claim it’s warnings had been ignored. “I can’t understand that,” he said.
Reiterating his views on lockdowns needed to stem the spread of the virus, Khan said he had never agreed with them and had been forced to impose them in March “because of the 18th Amendment.” He, again, claimed the government had to take steps that not only reduced the spread of COVID-19, but also ensured the poor segments of society did not go hungry.
“No one else in the world could’ve handled the situation the way we have,” he claimed, as Pakistan is being increasingly cited as an example of how the rest of the world should not ease lockdowns. The prime minister has personally, and on many occasions, rejected advise from medical experts, claiming they are not examining the situation from a “realistic” perspective.
To a question about the sugar inquiry commission report, the prime minister vowed that the government would ensure everyone involved would be brought to justice. Curiously, he referred to “two parties”—the PPP and PMLN—as being the sole beneficiaries of the “sugar mafia,” perhaps forgetting that his own party stalwart, Jahangir Khan Tareen, is a key accused in the “huge scam.”
The P.M.’s press conference came at the end of a two-day trip to Sindh during which Khan did not conduct any meetings with the provincial government, despite claiming the tour was to monitor SOP enforcements in the province.