Sindh governor rejects virus relief ordinance

Imran Ismail points out that Sindh does not have power to give utility concessions


Hafeez Tunio May 07, 2020
Sindh Governor Imran Ismail. PHOTO: PTI

KARACHI: Differences between the Centre and the Sindh government deepened when Sindh Governor Imran Ismail rejected the Sindh Covid-19 Emergency Relief Ordinance on Thursday.

The draft ordinance had been approved by the provincial cabinet on April 27, with the aim to provide relief to the people during the ongoing lockdown in the province. However, Ismail pointed out, the Sindh government had overstepped its bounds in the concessions provided.

"The provincial government has no authority to provide concessions in electricity and gas. It is purely a federal subject and comes under the federal legislative list…Legislation on this matter falls within the exclusive domain of parliament," wrote Ismail.

With this observation, the governor returned the ordinance to Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, while also expressing reservations over the suspension of rent proposed in the ordinance.

In his dissenting note, he also referred to the Centre's initiatives for the purpose, stating that it had already announced relief for the needy people affected by the lockdown.

With the Sindh Assembly out of session, the provincial government had drafted the ordinance through the law department, proposing to mitigate some of the challenges emanating from the lockdown.

Prior to Ismail's objection, the federal energy ministry also wrote to the provincial chief secretary, stating, "The federal government has already given concessions to power consumers that include installments of three months for consumers using electricity up to 300 units. Any suggestion that the Sindh government may have for provision of relief needs to be forwarded to the federal government for consultation at the appropriate forum."

Rebuttal

Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab, however, rejected the governor's objections and claimed that after the 18th Amendment, power and gas were not only federal subjects but rather, provincial governments too could legislate on them.

Citing Article 157 of the Constitution, he said, "The provincial government may levy taxes on the consumption of electricity within the province, construct power houses and grid stations, lay transmission lines for use within the province, and determine tariffs for distribution of electricity." He added that according to the Constitution, any dispute between the province and the Centre over this could be moved to the Council of Common Interests for resolution.

However, given the governor's reservations, the Sindh government has initiated consultations on the matter.

"The World Health Organisation and health experts have strongly recommended the maintaining of social distancing because we are likely to witness the peak of the virus this month, but the federal government is insisting to end the lockdown," said a senior Sindh government official, adding that the provincial government was also being blamed for creating economic problems. "But if the lockdown is over, the concept of a relief package will end too."

However, he stated, it would still depend on how the situation evolves. "If matters deteriorate, Sindh might bring the law to the provincial assembly."

Political gimmick?

In the eyes of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf parliamentary leader in the Sindh Assembly, Haleem Adil Shaikh, the relief ordinance is a mere political gimmick by the Sindh government.

"Around 45,000 industrial and 700,000 commercial users of electricity have already been given relief by the federal government," he claimed, adding that small-scale businesses too had received concessions.

Shaikh added that Prime Minister Imran Khan had also announced several other relief initiatives, such as the extension of relief through utility stores and the re-payment of loans through deferred schemes announced by the State Bank of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, apart from utility concessions, the relief ordinance drafted by the Sindh government prevents evictions of residential and commercial tenants and gives extensions in payment of school tuition fees, rent and utility charges. It further announced a 20 per cent concession in school fees and prohibited employees from both firing workers and withholding their salaries.

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