Calls for constitutional amendment stir debate over provincial autonomy

A general view of the Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan January 22, 2020. (Arab News photo)
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Updated 01 May 2020

Calls for constitutional amendment stir debate over provincial autonomy

  • 18th amendment passed in 2010 granted financial and legislative autonomy to provinces
  • Under the amendment, federation is bound to accept provincial ownership of natural resources

ISLAMABAD: The government is weighing options to review a constitutional amendment, which a decade ago granted greater autonomy to provinces.
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan was passed by the National Assembly in 2010, supported by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
While it primarily turned Pakistan into a parliamentary republic and removed the power of the president to dissolve the parliament, the amendment also devolved 18 federal ministries to the provinces. It also removed a ban on prime minister serving more than two terms, clearing the way for PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to take office for a third time in 2013.
Amendment to the amendment has been discussed several times since Prime Minister Imran Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came into power in 2018, attracting criticism from the opposition, especially PML-N and PPP. 
In its resolve to review the amendment, the ruling party cites the need to fix several flaws and restore federal authority over legislation and financial matters.
"The amendment was a major step towards provincial autonomy in Pakistan, but some flaws have also surfaced in it with the passage of time, which need to be fixed," Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan told Arab News in an interview on Wednesday.
He said that while the government strongly believes in provincial autonomy and would not infringe upon provincial rights, it wants "to improve the 18th amendment in consultation with all parliamentary parties."
He said the federation’s authority over legislation and financial matters has been significantly reduced, as provinces are now autonomous to legislate over subjects such as education and health. "This is problematic in many ways … coordination issues (with provinces) have also come up during coronavirus pandemic," he said.
Meanwhile, opposition parties demand that the amendment be first fully implemented before the government starts negotiations to fix it.
"These are the tactics to distract media and public from real issues," Taj Haider, a senior PPP leader, told Arab News.
He said the federation under the amendment was bound to accept provincial ownership over natural resources and hand over 50 percent of its revenue to the relevant province, but the clause has not been implemented.
"The center is denying us (Sindh province) over Rs200 billion annually in our due share of earnings through natural gas and petroleum products," Haider said.
According to PML-N chairman Raja Zafarul Haq the debate is "untimely and useless." He said, "We should move forward instead of looking back into the history." 
"The government should first tell us the flaws in the amendment, and then we will decide what to do," Haq said, adding that his party would look into the issue if the government brings in on in parliament.
Independent experts, however, argue that federal concerns over revenue distribution could be genuine as the center is left with little resources to meet its expenses. Provinces get their share from taxes collected by the government by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). In the fiscal year 2011-12, it was increased from 46.5 percent to 57.5 percent, affecting federal development and defense expenditure.
"There is no harm in reviewing the amendment through a democratic process," Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), told Arab News. "Constitution is a living document and can be amended anytime, but this should be after thorough debate in the parliament."
The ruling party lacks the necessary two-third majority in both the National Assembly and Senate to amend the 18th amendment on its own.

Pakistan International Airlines to retire 3,000 staff in cost cuts 

Updated 52 min 41 sec ago

Pakistan International Airlines to retire 3,000 staff in cost cuts 

  • The national flag carrier has incurred billions of rupees of losses in the past several years
  • With around $4 billion in accumulated losses, PIA currently runs a fleet of 30 aircraft operated by 14,000 employees

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is planning lay off 3,000 employees through a voluntary retirement scheme this year to reduce its annual losses by Rs4.5 billion ($28.26 million), a top official said on Wednesday.

The Pakistani government on Tuesday approved the national flag carrier's voluntary separation scheme (VSS) to remove the employees from service. PIA management is now seeking about Rs12.7 billion from the government to compensate them.

"This will result in 4.5 billion rupees savings per annum," Abdullah Hafeez Khan, PIA’s general manager for corporate communications, told Arab News.

"This means we will be paying back to the government in two and half or three years," he said, adding that between 2,500 and 3,000 employees will be laid off through the scheme.  

“Hopefully, we should start the process by early next month,” he said. "The biggest advantage (of the scheme) is that this will help us cut annual expenditure, save resources, improve the airline’s culture and productivity."

Explaining the VSS process, Kahn said that all employees will be given 14 days to accept the retirement offer.

“If employees don’t want to avail it, they are more than welcome to stay.”

The most highly skilled workers will be interviewed if they choose to accept the scheme, Khan said.
“We will ensure the process doesn’t lead to a brain drain.”

The loss-ridden national flag carrier has been struggling to stay afloat after a significant cut in the number of its domestic and international flights following the coronavirus outbreak. With around $4 billion accumulated losses, PIA is currently operating a fleet of only 30 aircraft that are maintained and operated by some 14,000 staff.

In recent years, the government has tried several measures to cut down PIA’s annual losses and approved bailout packages to keep it financially afloat.

PIA is a state-run entity that has incurred billions of rupees of losses for the last several years. Laying off extra employees was always on cards, though no previous administration could implement the plan due to political pressure and backlash from employee unions.