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EDITORIAL: Whatever possessed the caretaker government to promulgate an ordinance seeking to “neutralise the powers of the Indus River Systems Authority (Irsa) by bypassing the Council of Common Interests (CCI)”, that too in its last days in office? Let’s not forget that the interim setup has no such mandate; its only constitutional obligation being holding “free and fair elections” – which, in the opinion of many within and outside the country, it failed to carry out quite as required – while tending to day-to-day matters of the state.

Therefore, the president’s rejection of an ordinance seeking to amend the 1991 Irsa Act, on the grounds that “such critical matters involving the interests and rights of the federating units should not be considered in haste by an unrepresentative administration”, is appreciated as timely and in keeping with the letter and spirit of the constitution.

It’s not just that the caretaker setup decided to fiddle with such an important matter in its dying days, it’s also that it offered no explanation whatsoever for it despite stiff resistance from within its cabinet. Why, for example, would an unrepresentative setup want to alter the operational structure of Irsa? Presently, the Authority comprises four provincial and one federal member who hold the position of chairman on an annual rotation basis.

Yet the proposed amendment sought to “downgrade provincial representation” by denying them the position of chairman and instead giving overwhelming powers to the chairman, always to be appointed by the federal government, including the authority to “handpick independent consultants and experts” for critical decision-making relating to irrigation systems.

It’s also reported that caretaker Planning Minister Sami Saeed “strongly opposed” the said amendments, stressing that the interim setup had no business addressing such “sensitive matters”, and adding that “through these proposed changes, we would be pitting the provinces against the federation”. Yet his warning was brushed aside and the amendments were forwarded to the president for the final stamp of approval. And that, thankfully, is where the whole plan hit a brick wall.

It’s important to note that the government was busy with this business right at the end of January, when it should have been completely occupied with the election just over a week away. And now, with the benefit of hindsight, people are justified in asking whether such adventures were responsible for the poor preparation and execution of the election exercise.

Regardless, before it leaves office, the caretaker government must explain why it thought it necessary to introduce such far-reaching structural changes to the working of Irsa. More importantly, why it didn’t agree with its own planning minister that Irsa was created by CCI itself as part of the 1991 Water Apportionment Act, and therefore only CCI had constitutional jurisdiction over Irsa matter. And, for that matter, did it even bother to consult legal and constitutional experts before taking such a bold step, except of course, the erstwhile minister holding dual charge of the law and water ministries?

Nobody needs to be reminded that these are already very turbulent times. And the hope that things would improve after the election have already been dashed. There is, therefore, an urgent need for all organs of the state, all the way to the very top, to stick to their mandates and not muddy the water any further. The president has done the right thing by putting an end to yet another example of misuse of authority and power.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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KU Feb 15, 2024 12:34pm
If only our leaders of La La Land would read and keep up with climate change threat to Pakistan, they would realise that we may see drought conditions this year. Water and food insecurity is a fear.
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