A RECENT comment by the federal planning minister describing the 18th Amendment as flawed has sparked a new debate between the supporters of a powerful centre and those who want stronger federating units for a fairer, more effective federal system.
Although the minister indicated that the PTI government did not plan to clip the provinces’ administrative and financial powers, his words have elicited a strong reaction from the opposition parties in defence of hard-won provincial rights.
The amendment, which was forged through consensus a decade back, not only transferred greater administrative and fiscal authority to the provinces, but also gave more powers to parliament.
That the opposition felt the need to rebut the government’s view despite the ruling elite lacking the parliamentary majority to reverse the devolution process set in motion by the 18th Amendment, shows the growing trust gap between the two sides.
At one end is the fear that provincial autonomy could be eroded while at the other, there is the concern that the amendment, as well as the seventh National Finance Commission award, have administratively and financially weakened the centre by delegating too many legislative powers to the provinces and diverting a larger portion of fiscal resources to them.
The debate over greater administrative and financial autonomy allowed to the provinces under the amendment and the seventh NFC award is intensified every time the centre ruled by one political party finds it difficult to control and dictate a province governed by another.
One of the main reasons for this acrimony stems from the fact that the platform of the Council of Common Interests is hardly used to resolve issues between the centre and the provinces.
Further, there is a need to realise that the financial problems faced by the federal government have little to do with the increase in the provincial share from the federal tax divisible pool under the NFC award.
The fault lies with the centre because it has failed to broaden the tax base and collection as projected in the award or to cut its expenditure.
How can the provinces be blamed if the central government has continued to borrow heavily at higher interest rates to finance the functions it otherwise should have discarded after their devolution to the federating units?
The claim that provincial finances have grown exponentially under the NFC award is also debatable.
Indeed, the provinces are getting greater federal transfers from the divisible pool, but federal policies are responsible for adding drastically to their current expenditure such as their salary bills.
So it is advisable for the centre to look at all aspects of the debate before blaming the units for its troubles.
Similarly, the provinces also need to ramp up their expenditure on health, clean drinking water, sanitation, education, etc to prepare themselves for any future health crisis instead of looking towards federal support in such times.
WITH the declaration of self-rule by separatists in southern Yemen — a de facto secession — the situation in the war-torn country is set to deteriorate further. Already Yemen had been battered by five years of conflict, as the Saudi-led intervention on behalf of the government to dislodge the Iran-allied Houthis, who control the capital Sana’a, has turned the poverty-stricken country into a wreck. The Southern Transitional Council has broken away from the Mansour Hadi-led government as it claims the administration was ‘conspiring’ against its cause. The UN’s special envoy for the region has sounded the alarm, indicating the fact that the development bodes ill for the country.
Differences between the southern and northern regions of Yemen are not new and go back decades. In fact, until the 1990 reunification of the country, it was divided into North Yemen and the Marxist South, with its capital at Aden. Even after reunification, things were less than perfect as a number of attempts were made by the southerners to secede, only to be crushed by the late Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the current scenario, the Yemeni theatre has become incredibly complicated. While the battle between the Houthis and the Mansour Hadi regime is seen as another front in the contest for regional domination between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the southern secession exposes fissures within allies. While Mansour Hadi is a Saudi protégé, the STC is largely seen as a client of the UAE; both the Saudis and Emiratis are part of the anti-Houthi coalition. This sets the stage for a very ugly war of all against all, unless saner counsel prevails. To add to this incendiary mix, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is believed to have a strong base in Yemen, while the country also hosts a ‘province’ of the dreaded Islamic State group. To prevent a descent into total anarchy, the Saudi-led coalition needs to set its own house in order, for if there are rifts within the alliance, the Houthis are unlikely to negotiate with a house divided. Moreover, if factional fighting extends to all of Yemen, the aforementioned terrorist groups will find an opportune moment to pounce and grab more territory. All these scenarios present a terrifying picture for the hungry, sick and battered people of Yemen. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi need to rein in their respective clients, or else a negotiated end to the Yemeni imbroglio anytime soon is unlikely.
Sana Mir retires
PAKISTAN’S celebrated woman cricketer Sana Mir has called it a day after a 15-year-long distinguished career. An inspirational figure, Sana’s outstanding achievements on the field and impeccable conduct off it have earned her universal respect and made her one of Pakistan’s finest ambassadors. Indeed, a golden chapter has come to a close with her departure from the international scene. Since her debut in 2005, Sana earned a reputation as a fierce competitor and later made great strides in the game. In 2008, she was named Player of the Tournament in the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers and in 2009 she was asked to lead the national women’s cricket team. The all-rounder’s performances have been the cornerstone of the team’s success internationally. She led her side to gold medal wins in the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, and became the first woman player to complete 100 wickets in international cricket, crowning her career with the top spot in the women’s ODI rankings in 2018.
However, more importantly, Sana broke down barriers to excel in an environment that would have deterred lesser beings. For someone who started her cricket in the streets, she had to tackle many challenges on her way to glory. Lack of training venues, poor media coverage, sponsors’ snubs and above all societal criticism, Sana has seen it all. That she made her mark despite these setbacks makes her a role model for hundreds of young players including current captain Bismah Maroof, Aliya Riaz, Javeria Wadood, Kainat Imtiaz, Nahida Khan, Nida Dar, Sidra Nawaz, Diana Baig and others who form a competitive women’s cricket unit today. Tributes have poured in from across the world for Sana, including from the ICC and neighbouring India. Her peers have generously acknowledged her feats as well as the culture of teamwork and discipline that she inculcated in the team. The Pakistan Cricket Board should honour Sana Mir’s services to women’s cricket and utilise her experience and expertise for the betterment of the game.